§ Mr. O'Connell
said, he wished to call the attention of the House to a Statute passed so recently as in the year 1827, which considerably affected the properly of his Majesty's subjects in Ireland. The voice of the country had been raised against it. This was abundantly evident from the numerous petitions which had been laid upon the Table of the House. He had himself presented at least thirty petitions against this Statute, and he was convinced that three times as many had been presented by other hon. Members. In a word, the Act gave universal discontent, and he considered that its provisions were well calculated to do so; but he relied not, however, upon his own judgment, nor did he wish the House to take the fact upon his simple assertion. He could bring forward, in support of what he had stated, 84 the authority of a clergyman of the Established Chinch—of Mr. Daly, the Warden of Galway, who, at a public meeting held in that town, stated, that not only were the people and gentry opposed to this Statute, but that even a magistrate on the bench of justice had designated the Vestry Act as infamous and abominable, and as a substitute for the Penal Code. Now this showed that the hostility to the Statute had not originated with him; and he was not giving utterance to his own sentiments and feelings alone, when he complained of it as an invasion of private property, and denounced it as giving individuals a power over the property of others which they ought not to have. The Act, he begged the House to remember, was a recent one; it changed the law, and inflicted additional grievances upon a class of people who were then unrepresented in that House; and he could not refrain from observing, that one of the greatest benefits which had resulted from the Relief Bill was, that there was at least one person, however humble and incompetent, at present, to endeavour, as far as his limited powers would admit, clearly to show the injustice of such Acts as this. The provisions of the Act against which he complained were shortly these:—The Vestry had the power of assessing the inhabitants to any amount for particular objects. The Act excluded the greater number of rate-payers from all meetings of the Vestry to consider of the building of any church or chapel of ease, or the rebuilding, repairing, and enlarging of the same. It excluded the Roman Catholics from the Vestries upon all these occasions. Next, it enabled the Protestant inhabitants exclusively to levy a rate upon all the other inhabitants of the parish for all purposes necessary to provide for the celebration of divine worship, as laid down in any Canon or Rubric now in force either in England or Ireland; thus including not only the Canons which may be in existence in Ireland, but also those which may only be known in England. Up to the passing of this Statute, the Roman Catholics were not excluded from meetings to consider the expediency of enlarging or repairing churches, or of voting upon any other questions, excepting for the building of churches, for the election of churchwardens, or for the demise of parish estates. In former times they were admitted to the discussion respecting the 85 making of the rate, although they were not to that respecting the propriety of imposing it. The cases of exclusion had therefore been augmented since 1827, though the law then passed was not justified by any complaints against the Catholics. They had not obstructed the building, or repairing of churches, though all parties had before that time complained of the monstrous system of jobbing that was carried on by the Protestant Vestries. Now, nothing, in his mind, could be more unjust than this system. In England the Vestry had the power of levying rates on all the inhabitants for repairing churches, and this was perfectly just; but nothing could be more unfair than throwing the burthen of keeping up Protestant churches upon Roman Catholics, who formed the mass of the population in Ireland. Before the Reformation the churches were all in repair, and they were in sufficient number. By the canon law the clergy were obliged, out of the revenues of the church, to keep the church in repair. After this period, however, they were neglected and dilapidated, and instead of applying to the ecclesiastical fund, which ought to have been sufficient, the government of that day turned to the people, who were not guilty, and made them contribute for these purposes. Up to the passing of 12th of Geo. the 1st, Roman Catholics were admitted to vote at Vestries, but it was recited in this Act, that inasmuch as they had improperly prevented the building and repairing of churches, they should be therefore excluded from the Vestries. And yet, strange to tell, by an Act passed two years before, by the 10th of Geo. 1st c. 6, it was declared, that the consent of the majority of Protestants was sufficient for the building or repairing of churches, and consequently it was evident that the Roman Catholics could not, by possibility, have been guilty of that with which they were charged by the Statute of the 12th of Geo. 1st. He also complained, that if the Vestry did not choose to tax the parish to build and repair churches, the Bishops had the power of so doing. He had formerly been contradicted when he made this assertion, and had been consequently since led to examine into its correctness, and he found in the 23rd section, that the Bishop, if he thought fit, might issue a monition, ordering an assessment either for rebuilding or repairing churches, or providing any of the things necessary 86 for the celebration of divine worship; and this order could be legally enforced. Thus it appeared the Bishops possessed unjust and unconstitutional power over the property of Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Dissenters. Another provision was, that if a churchwarden, acting for the Vestry, were defeated in any action, he having even gone beyond the powers of the Statute (for otherwise he must be successful under its protection), yet was the amount of the verdict added to the costs, and the whole was levied on the parish. The Act also had an inconvenience with respect to the union of parishes. By one Act of Parliament, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and the Bishop of the diocese were enabled to unite parishes in perpetuity. But the Statute of George 4th enabled the Bishop, where a parish was destitute of a church, to unite that with any other parish he thought fit, and then it was to be taxed for the support of the church in the parish to which it was united, though it had, at the same time, to pay its own clergyman. He knew instances in which such unions had been made solely for the purposes of taxation; and the right hon. the member for Waterford had mentioned a case in which one parish, for this purpose, had been united to another ten miles distant. This was, he thought, a state of the law which ought not to be allowed to subsist. He complained also of this Statute, because in many parishes the number of Protestants was very small as compared with that of the Roman Catholics, while in other parishes there were no Protestants at all. He knew fifty parishes in Ireland, containing a population of 283,621 Catholics, and 3,228 Protestants, making the persons who imposed taxes about one in ninety of those who paid them. He also contended that the Statute was vague, and the powers of the Vestry were not defined. It might be objected, that if Roman Catholics were admitted, they would prevent the building and repairing of churches; but he thought that each class of persons should support its own religious establishment. The present state of the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland fully proved that there was no necessity for Government's contributing anything to the support of a church establishment. He did not, however, propose to introduce any principle into his Bill which should have the effect of 87 depriving the Church of England of any of those rights it at that lime possessed. He only wished to give the Roman Catholics the right of voting, as well respecting the propriety of imposing any rate, as the mode of levying it; and he would be at the same time ready to point out the remedy in the case of any improper opposition. If a pertinacious and unjust opposition were made to re-building or repairing a Protestant Church, the parish authorities might apply for a mandamus to the King's Bench; and the whole expense of the proceeding would fall on the parties unjustly opposing the measure. It was impossible, under the present system, when parish money was voted away by a few, that great favouritism should not exist in the expenditure of it. He would, however, avoid entering into any particular details, contenting himself with stating it was inconsistent with human nature that it should be otherwise. His Motion was simply this—to prevent the possibility of any one class being bound to keep its pockets open, that another might thrust its hands into them. The hon. and learned Gentleman moved for leave to bring in a Bill to alter and amend the laws relating to Vestries in Ireland.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, that as he was the person who introduced and conducted through the House the measure, against which the observations of the hon. and learned Gentleman were directed, and which had been so often attacked, he might be allowed to say a few words in its defence. He would not enter into the subject with reference to any of the antecedent attacks which had been made against the measure, but would rather imitate the temper displayed by the hon. Gentleman upon the present occasion. He would proceed to show that the Act was not, as had been represented, an invasion of private property, and that it was not entitled to any of the appellations which had been bestowed upon it. When the Statute was passed, it was generally acknowledged to be an improvement of the law which had previously existed, and an alleviation of the burthens and obligations of that class whose cause the hon. Member particularly professed to advocate. It received the approbation of men who were as jealous of the interests of the Roman Catholics as the hon. Member himself; and amongst others, of Lord Plunkett, then. Attorney-general for Ire- 88 land, who assisted him in passing the bill. He differed entirely from the hon. Gentleman with respect to the view he had taken of the general question: and he did so because he thought an Established Church was an integral part of the Constitution, which was essential to the well-being of the people, and ought to be supported for the benefit of the State, by the general contribution of all classes of the community. If, therefore, he had assisted in preparing a bill proceeding on a principle different from the principle entertained by the hon. Gentleman, it was because he had a strong feeling in favour of an Established Church, instead of allowing different sects to support their own institutions, without contributing to the expenses of the National Church. The hon. Member complained that the bill now under discussion gave larger powers of assessment to Protestant Vestries than they enjoyed under the former law. He told the House, that until this bill was passed, the assessments could only extend to the re-building and repairing of churches, but that the bill had added the building and the enlarging of churches, and the building and the repairing of chapels, from which the parishioners were previously exempted.
§ Mr. O'Connell
had only spoken as to the additional powers relating to the enlarging of churches and chapels.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
then understood the hon. Gentleman to say, that so far as related to the re-building and repairing of churches, the previous law gave the Vestry a right of assessment. Now, the hon. Gentleman had much insisted on the system of procuring funds for building churches in England and Ireland, and he had stated particularly the hardships to which he asserted the latter country was subjected. It was true that in England the Vestries were not bound to levy assessments for the building of parish churches; but it was equally true, that latterly in Ireland the parishioners were not assessed for that purpose. In Ireland the funds came from another source—namely, the First Fruits. Advances were made to parishes from that source, and the sum so advanced was afterwards repaid, without interest, by the parishes. In the same way, when there was a necessity for erecting a church here, a sum of money was advanced by the Com-missioners for Building Churches, and the 89 amount so advanced was repaid out of the proper rates. But whatever might be the hardship or inconvenience which the hon. Gentleman said resulted from obliging the parishes in Ireland to restore the sums granted to them for such purposes, that evil, it should be observed, did not arise under the bill of which the hon. Member complained. The law on that subject had its origin at an antecedent period; and by that law it was directed, that money lent for the purpose of rebuilding churches, &c. should be repaid. In framing the bill he had not overlooked that which the hon. Gentleman stated on former occasions to be the great and crying evil of the system, but which he appeared to have forgotten to-night. The first and most prevalent evil under the former law was, that the Roman Catholic could be compelled to take the office of churchwarden; or, in other words, he might be forced to appear in a situation the duties of which he was not competent to discharge. For that hardship the bill now complained of furnished a remedy. It did not exempt the Roman Catholic from any honour or advantage which might be derived from filling the office of churchwarden (for it was sometimes said, that it was connected with honour and advantage, and sometimes the assertion was denied), but it gave him the option of taking the situation or of refusing it, just as he pleased; he could no longer be compelled to undertake those duties. Another objection to the former bill, but which was removed by the present, although the hon. Gentleman had omitted to mention it, was this—that all matters of dispute relative to rates necessary for repairing or beautifying a church, were brought before an ecclesiastical tribunal, and the church, in such cases, was supposed to act as judge in its own cause. What, then, was done, in the bill which the hon. and learned Gentleman condemned with respect to this point? Why, that power was altogether withdrawn. It could not now be said by the Roman Catholic that cases of this kind were heard before an interested tribunal. Those cases were submitted to a tribunal of magistrates, where Roman Catholics as well as Protestants might sit in judgment. He would therefore say, that this single change in the system, if there were no other alteration effected, showed clearly the feelings which actuated the framers of this measure. 90 It proved that they had no wish unduly to uphold the interests of the Established Church by the influence of ecclesiastical authority. The hon. Gentleman had said, that in other parts of the bill provisions were introduced, imposing very heavy burthens on the Roman Catholics. He admitted that the clause for enlarging churches was added to the provisions for building and repairing churches. But why was it added? Simply, because it was a compromise between existing interests, and it certainly appeared reasonable that the Vestry, which had the power of building, rebuilding, or repairing, should possess the minor power of enlarging, which, in many instances, might render it unnecessary to incur the greater expense of re-building. The hon. Gentleman's next objection was, that the bill gave to the Bishop full power, as he had stated on a former occasion, to levy any sum of money he might think proper on a parish, and that such sum might be raised without any interference on the part of the Roman Catholics. Now it would be necessary for the House to consider in what case that power was given. By the law of both countries, as it stood at present, the parishioners were bound to keep the parish church in repair; and so long as an Established Church was kept up, it must be so. If a church were suffered to fall into decay, the Bishop had a right to require that a rate should be levied for the purpose of having it repaired. That was the law of this country. When visitations were made, it was the duty of the Bishop to see that the necessary repairs of the church were effected; and if the parishioners did not think fit to make such repairs, the Bishop here, as in Ireland, had a right to compel them to do that which they ought to have done voluntarily, Of course a rate of that description must, like other parochial rates, be shared amongst all the parishioners. Such a principle might not have existed in the Statute-law of this country before, but it had long formed a principle of the Ecclesiastical law, that the Bishop should have a right to levy a rate for proper repairs where it was necessary. The present bill transferred that power from the ecclesiastical courts to another tribunal; and in doing so, it had effected any thing rather than the imposition of an additional burthen on the Roman Catholics. Another objection made by the hon. Gentleman to 91 the bill was, that when a churchwarden proceeded against any parishioner, and was cast, the parish were bound to defray his costs. He admitted that this was so; but as the individual acted under the direction of the Vestry, it would be very hard, should the Vestry have taken a wrong view of the question, that the person acting in his official capacity should not be remunerated. He had thus gone over several of the provisions of the bill against which the hon. Gentleman had directed his complaints; and ho thought, if the House had done him the favour to listen to what he had said, that he had shown that the present bill had effected a great amelioration in the former law. He had corrected a great abuse which existed under the previous measure,—that of charging a gross sum as levied in the shape of rates, without stating to what purpose or purposes they were applied. Every item must now be distinctly pointed out. Indeed, the present bill went further, for it provided that the accounts should be open to the inspection of all the payers, and it gave the right of appeal to the magistrates against the amount of the rate, as well as against its particular appropriation. He would not say that the law was without any objections; but though he might admit that some provisions of it were capable of amendment, he could not consent, to a bill for altogether setting it aside. Above all, he could never allow the hon. Gentleman to introduce a bill to amend the existing Act, on the ground of the enormities or abuses which he had been pleased to assert had been generated by it. The hon. Member's amendment came to this, that every rate-payer within a parish should in future vote for the maintenance of the chinch, and for those things that were necessary to be supplied for it. He thought that was going too far. He knew there had been a dispute as to the matters on which Vestries ought to vote, and it had been suggested to him to state in the bill the subjects to which their votes ought to be restricted. He had not adopted that suggestion, but had attempted to attain the same end, by sending to the different parishes a circular letter, in which he referred them to the Rubric and Canons for their guidance. He had felt it necessary to say so much in vindication of himself and of his right hon. friend, for having prepared a bill which he must continue to think was an amelio- 92 ration of the former law. He should therefore oppose the Motion of the hon. Gentleman.
Mr. S. Rice
said, he agreed with much of the latter part of the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, but not with the early portion of it. The right hon. Gentleman had risen to vindicate his bill; but the real and practical object which it was the duty of the House to discuss was, whether or not a case had been made out, even by the admission of the right hon. Gentleman himself, which rendered it expedient and necessary, without looking to the feelings and views of those who framed the law, to alter and amend it. On the part of those immediately connected with individuals who were affected by measures of this character, he thought the House had a right to expect that a more distinct pledge should be given—and that, too, without loss of time—by his Majesty's Government, of their intention to propose some alterations in this measure. He confessed for one, without meaning any disrespect to the hon. member for Clare, that he should be glad to see the amendment of the law taken up by the Government of the country rather than by an individual. The hon. member for Clare appeared to agree with him in that sentiment; and therefore would acquit him of any disrespectful feeling. He should, with reference to the success of any new measure, wish to see it proceed directly from the Government, in preference to its being introduced by an individual unconnected with the Administration, because, coming from such a quarter, it was undoubtedly more likely to be carried. He entirely concurred in the sentiment of the Chancellor of the Exchequer that, whatever defects were to be found in the bill as it now stood, such defects were not to be imputed to those who introduced the measure to Parliament, or to those who endeavoured to improve it. The whole spirit which was manifested in the debates in Parliament on this subject, was evidently dictated by a desire to apply a remedy to an admitted evil; and he must say, that in many important points that remedy was afforded by the bill before them. But admitting that, was he to be precluded from voting for a measure to remove other defects? Certainly not. At the same time, he would vote with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, provided a pledge were given by the 93 Government that it would adopt other, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would give him credit when he said, better, remedies for the evils than those which had yet been proposed. On the ground that the present law was capable of amendment, and because he thought it ought to be amended,—on this ground, and after the gross violation of the law, such as it was, that had taken place in Ireland, and holding in view the neglect of the circular promulgated by the right hon. Gentleman opposite on the subject,—he thought Ministers were bound to give immediate notice of their intention to propose some alteration and amendment of the law. Such an amendment need not affect the principle of the bill, and would strengthen instead of impairing the solidity of the Church establishment. It should be so managed as to cast the burthen of the rates on the landlord, instead of imposing it upon the tenant. He thought that such a change would be most beneficial. There was one subject in the right hon. Gentleman's speech to which he could not avoid alluding. The right hon. Gentleman had told them that he had sent a circular letter to the Vestries, referring them, for the guidance of their conduct, to the Rubric and the Canons. He must say, that he wished that instead of such a reference, their duties had been clearly defined in a schedule annexed to the Act of Parliament, that it. might have come before the Vestries as a legislative measure, instead of appearing in the form of a circular letter from the Chief Secretary of the Lord Lieutenant. To whom was that letter addressed?—Why, to Irish Vestrymen. He was at that moment speaking to the English House of Commons; yet he would venture to assert, that there were hardly ten Gentlemen present at that moment who knew one single word of the directions contained in the Rubric or the Canons. What then could Irish Vestrymen know of such things? This uncertainly of the law had introduced a spirit of hostility and litigation which he had hoped would be taken away, and recalled feelings which he had hoped were entirely set at rest. It was under these circumstances that he wished to call his noble friend's (Lord F. L. Gower's) attention to the constitution and operation of the Irish Vestries Act. The present was a subject which excited more attention in Ireland than many others of greater import- 94 ance: the petitions upon the Table proved that. The Legislature was asked to amend a law which it was pretty generally admitted required amendment, and unless the Government took up the subject, he should therefore vote for the proposition of the hon. and learned member for Clare. In doing so, he did not mean to pledge himself to go to the full length which it was possible that hon. Member might have in view; he should pledge himself to nothing more than an amendment of the Irish Vestries Act, and that in the absence of a pledge from Government. But he trusted that the noble Lord, who from the nature of his office, was charged peculiarly with the interests of Ireland, would not return to that country without being able to say to the people of Ireland, "There has been a case of grievance and considerable existing evil made out with respect to the operation of the Irish Vestry law; and feeling it to be my duty to devise a remedy for the evil myself, I introduced a bill into Parliament, which is now law. You owe the removal of the grievance to the Government and the Legislature."
§ Mr. Moore
said, the principle that Roman Catholics and other dissenters from the Established Church should be exempted from contributing to its support, had been very adroitly disclaimed by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite on this occasion, who, however, at the same time that he disavowed any intention of introducing that principle in his amended bill, spoke in such a manner, that he could not but believe, if the Bill were allowed to pass into a law, that the very next attempt of the hon. and learned Gentleman would be to introduce and establish that principle. The hon. member for Limerick gave up the remaining principle which the learned Gentleman sought to enforce, so that he (Mr. Moore) was relieved from going into the details of the subject. Of this he was satisfied, that infinitely more excitation would be produced in Ireland generally by an alteration of the law, as suggested by the hon. member for Clare, than could be compensated by the soothing effect which the learned Gentleman expected from the change in parishes where the numbers of dissenters from the Established Church predominated. It was well known that there were parts of Ireland where the Protestant inhabitants had no parochial place of worship. In such cases, the act of the 4th of Geo. 4th gave the Bishop of the 95 diocese the power of conferring upon the inhabitants a right of attending the church of the adjoining parish; and so long as circumstances required them to do so, and no longer, were they to pay rates towards the support of that church; for although the Bishop had, to a certain extent, the power to unite adjoining parishes, it was a power only to be exercised for good and wise purposes, and in cases were necessity required it; and as soon as a parish built a church for its own use, the annexation fell to the ground, and the rates payable to the other parish ceased. He denied that there was anything indefinite in the existing law, which it was true, contemplated "the providing of all things necessary for the celebration of divine service, according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England." This was explained to be all things required by the rules, and canons, and rubric of the church, and upon the extensive meaning of the latter word "Rubric" the hon. and learned Member had rung the changes here and elsewhere. The hon. Gentleman went on to say, that the meaning of the term "Rubric" was extremely simple, and that if the learned Member looked into Burn's Ecclesiastical Law, he could find a definition of it. In fact, the "Rubric" was the directions contained in the Book of Common Prayer with regard to the celebration of divine service, and in old Prayer Books these directions were frequently printed in red ink, and were therefore termed the Rubric. After this explanation, he thought it could not be maintained that the Act of Parliament was not sufficiently distinct and definite on the subject. The hon. Member concluded by expressing his determination to vote against the Motion.
§ Sir J. Newport
said, the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down thought it right to refer the House to Burn's Ecclesiastical Law for the meaning of the terms "Rubric" and "Canons of the Church;" but the right hon. Gentleman opposite was content with issuing a circular as to what the Rubric required without referring to Burn's Ecclesiastical Law. What was the result of this letter? The result was, not only that many of the parishes treated it with levity, but several of the incumbents said, the right hon. Gentleman had no authority to send such a communication, and one individual went the length of saying he set it at nought. In one parish in 96 Dublin, under the head of matters "necessary for the celebration of Divine Service," was a vole of 300l. agreed upon in vestry, and granted to two curates for performing of early service, not leaving it to the incumbent to provide for the payment of his curates. Sums of money were voted for vestry clerks, bellows-blowers to the organ, organ-tuners, teachers of charity children, and other objects never contemplated by the Act, and all this under pretence of "things necessary for the celebration of Divine Service, according to the rites and ceremonies of the Church of England." Such circumstances showed the necessity of guarding the Act against the possibility of misconstructions. He heartily wished that the assessments could be provided for by other means than annual vestries, for the purpose of avoiding the chance of excitement. One great evil was, that if an aggrieved parish appealed, and were successful in that appeal, the costs were still thrown upon the parishioners. Another was, that when an appeal was determined on, it was necessary to enter into recognizances to prosecute, and as few parties liked that responsibility, the power of appeal, which he admitted was intended to benefit the population of Ireland, was in fact, and practically of no use whatever. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by expressing a hope that the noble Lord (Lord F. L. Gower) would give an assurance of his intention to propose an amendment in the existing law, and observed, that if this suggestion were not adopted, he should feel bound to support the Motion of the hon. member for Clare. If Government took the matter into their own hands, no doubt the learned Gentleman would be content to leave it with them.
Lord F. L. Gower
considered it his duty to oppose the Motion of the hon. member for Clare, and in doing so would take the opportunity to explain very briefly his views of the subject. When first he undertook the duties of the office which he now held, he entered upon them with impressions and notions as to this law, which had been considerably changed by what he had observed since he went to Ireland. He was prepared to find a case of remarkable failure and grievance, but he must say that his impression, arising from recent experience, and from what he had seen of the working of the law in the country, was, that it was a law which rather admitted than urgently required 97 amendment. It was not necessary for him, after the explanation offered to the House by his right hon. friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who, from his share in the enactment of the measure, was the most proper person to explain its details, to go into the subject minutely. The hon. member for Limerick must excuse him if, with the impressions now existing in his mind, he felt considerable caution as to pledging himself to the immediate introduction of any enactment on the subject. On general principles he was reluctant to do so, not having made up his mind fully on the matter. He had formed an opinion with respect to various details of the act, and thought that some of them might perhaps be amended and improved; but bearing in his recollection all the suggestions that had been offered on the subject, he had not yet been able to determine as to the course he should take, or the extent to which he might be able to adopt these recommendations. The hon. Gentleman seemed to think that it was a fit subject for inquiry by a committee up stairs; and that was sufficient to entitle him to decline giving the pledge which the hon. Gentleman so urgently pressed for. He felt it his duty to deal candidly and fairly with his hon. friend, and to say, that if he were disposed to rest his vote on the hope that Government would, in the course of the present Session, bring forward an enactment on the subject, anxious as he felt to have his hon. friend vote with him, he could not purchase that vote by offering the pledge which his hon. friend required, because in doing so he might only be deceiving him, and the House. If he understood the hon. member for Clare aright, his proposed alterations would amount to an admission of rate-payers of all descriptions to privileges from which they were excluded by the present Act; and the hon. Gentleman appeared to think that the danger and inconvenience that might once have resulted from this course was now reduced to almost nothing, by the good feeling existing among all classes on the other side of the water. He was happy to say this good feeling did exist in a great degree on many subjects, and he could wish that the temperate tone of the present discussion had prevailed in all discussions of the subject, and in regard to all matters relating to Ireland. Such a circumstance might have almost reconciled him to the learned Gentleman's proposi- 98 tion: but the tone and temper referred to was not the tone of feeling that always prevailed in Ireland on this or other subjects, as the hon. member for Clare well knew. He was not sure that the tone of feeling in Ireland with regard to the particular Statute in question, was such as rendered it desirable to deal with the subject at the present moment. It was partly upon this ground that he thought the hon. Member's expectations, with regard to the working of his proposed alterations, would not be borne out. Under all the circumstances of the case, he could not give the pledge required at the hands of Government, and felt bound to oppose the Motion of the hon. member for Clare.
§ Mr. Trant
said, the hon. and learned Member had told them how highly a Church could flourish without any provision; while he said, at the same time, that it was not his present intention to go further than the measure then before the House: but who could doubt the hon. and learned Gentleman's ultimate intention? No one who, like him, was an earnest and sincere member of the Roman Catholic Church, could reconcile it to his feelings, to omit bringing forward motions of that nature. He could not help endeavouring to make some progress—he hardly knew what to call it—in undermining what he could not but regard as an intrusive Church: it was perfectly natural, and so obvious, that all men had foreseen that the moment a Roman Catholic Member obtained a seat in that House, measures would be introduced for the purpose of overturning the Established Church in Ireland. This, in fact, was the object of the hon. and learned Gentleman, though he couched it under the name of an amendment in the Vestries Act. He should deeply regret to see the Church of Ireland regulated by a schedule in an Act of Parliament, as proposed by the hon. member for Limerick, instead of being-regulated by the Canons and the Rubric. There might be philosophers and economists in that House, but he trusted, the people would support him in maintaining the rights and privileges of the Church of England. He hoped and believed that the people of England would support him and other Members of that House, in watching, with the greatest vigilance, anything affecting the interests of the Established Church in Ireland.
Mr. Secretary Peel
said, he most fully 99 concurred with the hon. Member who had spoken last, that they should look with the utmost vigilance to all that affected the interests of the Established Church—there was no motion brought forward as the present had been which should not be regarded with, he might even say, suspicion—a motion made upon such a subject, and having such an effect, by an hon. Member dissenting from the doctrines of the Church, and avowing opinions with respect to contributing to the maintenance of the Established Church, such as had been avowed by the hon. and learned Mover—to which he added, that he contemplated ulterior measures, which, for the present, he did not think it expedient to put forth. Now it was to be regretted that he had confined himself to that imperfect statement of his opinions; it would have been much to be desired, that those opinions had now been submitted to the House, that they might know at once what the hon. and learned Gentleman proposed to do. With respect to the particular question then before them, he begged to say, that he was far from denying that very plausible arguments had been brought against points and portions of the Act, of which it was the object of the hon. and learned Gentleman to procure the repeal; but he looked to the main principle of the Motion, and upon principle he opposed it. He understood the main object of it to be to enable Catholics and other Dissenters to vote at Vestries concerning the imposition of Church-rates.
Mr. Secretary Peel
resumed: If Roman Catholics were permitted to vote, he foresaw it must be productive of the most endless confusion in Ireland, and would lead to the destruction of that, peace and good-will now so happily prevailing in that country. The Church of Ireland was a branch of the Protestant United Episcopal Church of England, and the reform carrying on in the whole of that Church required an increased supply of places of worship, and he knew not how those were to be had otherwise than by taxing the possessors of land in Ireland. They could not expect England to pay for those churches; and if it turned out that the possessors of land in Ireland were not able to pay for them, then England must see that they were paid for from some other quarter, so as to keep the burthen, if pos- 100 sible, upon the shoulders of those who ought to bear it. The members of the United Church had a right to look to the possessors of land in Ireland, for the maintenance of the decent performance of public worship, according to the form of the Established Church. For his part, he knew nothing better than levying parochial rates for this purpose. He confessed he heard with surprise a lawyer recommending an enactment, giving the power of application to the Court of King's Bench—it might be said, that even at the present moment there existed the means of application to the King's Bench; he did not know whether it was so; if it was, he regretted it; for, in his opinion, the Court of King's Bench ought to be kept aloof from all party contention, whereas the measure which the hon. and learned Gentleman sought to carry, would have the effect of erecting the Court of King's Bench into a political tribunal, exercising a discretion upon the expediency of erecting a church in every parish in Ireland. He knew that in certain cases of rates, that Court could issue a mandamus; but he should most decidedly object to devolving upon that Court the exercise of a political discretion, instead of leaving it exclusively to its legitimate business, the administration of justice. Admitting the force of some observations which had been made respecting the operation of the Vestry Act, he preferred giving the present Motion a decided negative, to adopting any other course; nor should he purchase the concurrence of any hon. Gentleman in that House, by giving a distinct pledge to propose any alteration in it. He could not conceal from himself the difficulties that were in the way of any attempt to specify by law, in what, cases Vestries should have the power of imposing rates. The Canon Law and the Rubric were, it must be admitted, but little understood, and rarely referred to by those who took an active part in the business of Vestries; and, in the circumstances in which the circular letter of his right hon. friend had been issued, he did not, he confessed, see how a more expedient course could have been pursued. Though fully aware of the difficulty of accomplishing the object of which he spoke, he could not help expressing a wish that all those cases were specified by law; for it was scarcely to be supposed that the Roman Catholic would remain satisfied with any practice, merely because 101 it was prescribed by the Canon and the Rubric, and not specified in any legislative enactment. It would be, therefore, convenient and advantageous, that a law should be passed, did no grounds of objection to it appear; but to say anything decisive, one way or the other, would be giving a pledge in the course of a debate too important to be given, except upon due consideration. There were other points connected with the present question, which required much consideration, and to which he was willing to give his serious attention, but upon which he could then give no pledge. As to the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman, he differed from it in principle; and therefore he was prepared to give it his most decided negative.
claimed the privilege of saying a few words in reply. He objected to the payment of cess by Catholics, so long as they were denied the power of voting at vestries, and so long as the purposes for which the money was voted remained undefined. It was most unfair to charge him with making the present a question of religion—he had studiously avoided making it so—it was a question of pounds, shillings, and pence—it was a question about levying distress, and the pocketing of fees upon that distress—that was not religion, that was extortion, and the party guilty of it was an extortion, and no Christian at all. Those who had to observe upon what had fallen from him, and who felt themselves called upon to oppose his Motion, seemed much discontented at the manner in which he had introduced his Motion. He remembered once hearing a counsel say to a witness, "Why don't you say something that I can lay hold of?" Hon. Gentlemen opposite seemed to be somewhat in that situation—they seemed to be amazingly discontented with him for not saying something that they could lay hold of. He should now come to another point. The great principle for which he contended was this—that no one sect ought to have the power of taxing another at its discretion, for the maintenance of an adverse system of religion. If the Protestants of England bore the same numerical proportion to the Catholics here, which the Catholics of Ireland bore to the Protestants there, he should feel but little respect for the Protestant body, if they allowed a few Catholics to tax them for the maintenance of 102 their own form of worship. But then it was said, that all this pecuniary aid was necessary for maintaining the poor Established Church of Ireland; impoverished as it was, and destitute of pecuniary means to defray the charges of its public worship, it behoved them to do something for its protection and support. Good God! was it to be endured that such language should be applied, as he had heard, with respect to the Established Church of Ireland?—a Church the richest in the world, compared with the wealth of the people amongst whom, and at whose expense, it was established. Yet they were told that the inordinately rich church ought not to be expected to pay for its own sacramental elements; for the decoration of its places of worship; for the salaries of its pew-openers; nay, for the winding-up of its vestry clock: he found that to be one of the items. No; the Church was to pay for none of these; but that richest of Churches was to tax the poorest of nations, and that for the maintenance of a system opposed to the feelings and principles of the great mass of the people. Formerly vestries could not impose taxes oftener than once a year—on Easter Monday or Easter Tuesday. By the present law, they could impose taxes on every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and every day in the year except Sunday. They possessed an unlimited power of taxation over their fellow-subjects. It was said, that the people possessed a power of appeal to the magistrates at sessions; yes—but then they must give two sureties in 100l.each [No, no]. Yes, but he had the Act. He wished the hon. Gentleman to refer to the 16th section, and then to the 17th. He would there find, that appellants to the Sessions were bound to find two sufficient sureties in 100l. each. The Act stated, indeed, that the appeal should be received with securities or without them, at the discretion of the magistrates, should they think fit to dispense with them. But would the magistrates dispense with them in any case except in the cases of rich men, to whom the dispensation would be of no value?—the poor man, who could not find the securities, would be the very person required to find them. He then proceeded to observe, in detail, upon some of the clauses of the Act, complaining that the least irregularity in the form of proceeding was fatal to any appeal—that the whole time, therefore, occupied in try- 103 ing appeals, was spent in trying, not the merits of the question at issue, but the forms of the proceeding. It was a system such as that which made law-reforms necessary—it was well known that the greater portion of the time of the inferior courts in this country was spent in settling questions of form, without the slightest reference to the merits of the questions in dispute between the litigants. It was objected by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that the Court of King's Bench was not a fit tribunal for the purposes which he contemplated. The power which he proposed to confer on the Court of King's Bench was perfectly analogous to powers already possessed by that Court, and in many cases of rates exercised by the Court of King's Bench, in England, amidst its multifarious duties. A mandamus in the case of rates in Ireland was perfectly usual, and the power which he meant to convey would not place the King's Bench in any novel or inconvenient position. What formed the chief ground of his complaint was, that there should be taxation without the power of voting, and for purposes opposed to the feelings of the people, and not defined by law. He knew fifty parishes in Ireland in which the Catholic population were to the Protestant as eighty to one—was it to be endured that one should be placed over the eighty, and invested with power to tax them at his discretion, and for purposes of his own sect? It was against every principle of British justice, and opposed to every principle of the British Constitution. Was he, a Catholic, then to be taunted with complaining against that? He was in that House because the people of Clare sent him into it; but he did not appear there as a sectarian—he rose in his place to contest a question of pounds, shillings, and pence—he had done all in his power to bring forward the Motion in a manner the best calculated, as he conceived, to avoid offence—and he must be allowed to say, that he thought he had not been treated as he deserved. The motive which had been imputed to him by the hon. member for Dover was most unjust—he was influenced by no such considerations—he knew no religious distinctions except in the Temple of his God—he scorned and repudiated the purposes imputed to him-—-and ho appealed on behalf of the people of Ireland to the justice of an English House of Commons.
§ The House then divided, when there appeared—For the Motion 47; Against it 177—Majority 130.
|List of the Minority.|
|Althorp, Lord||Monck, J. B.|
|Buller, C.||Macintosh, Sir Jas.|
|Baring, Alex.||Macdonald, Sir James|
|Baring, B.||Marshall, John|
|Blandford, Marquis||Maberly, Colonel|
|Benett, J.||Martin, John|
|Clements, Lord||Macauley, W.|
|Clive, E. B.||Morpeth, Lord|
|Cave, Otway||Newport, Sir John|
|Cavendish, W.||Ord, William|
|Duncombe, Thomas||Philips, Sir G.|
|Dundas, Thomas||Power, R.|
|Dawson, Alexander||Parnell, Sir H.|
|Davenport, E.||Palmer, Fysche|
|Easthope, J.||Ponsonby, hon. F.|
|Ewart, T.||Robinson, Sir C.|
|Fazakerley, J. N.||Rice, Spring|
|Graham, Sir J.||Stanley, hon. E.|
|Guise, Sir W.||Talbot, R.|
|Grattan, J.||Tuite, H. M.|
|Hobhouse, J. C.||Wilson, Sir R.|
|Howick, Lord||Warburton, Henry|
|Kennedy, Thomas||O'Connell, Daniel|
|Lambert, Colonel||Hume, Joseph|