HC Deb 22 February 1831 vol 2 cc906-10
Mr. Ruthven

moved for leave to bring in a Bill to exempt the potato-gardens of the poor in Ireland, being under two acres, from the payment of tithes. He had, he said, brought forward the Motion rather as an appeal to the charity of the Clergy than with any desire to deprive them of their just rights. He did not wish to deprive the present Clergymen of any thing; but he thought that Ministers were called upon to do something for the people of Ireland, and their exertions must be more availing if the clergy acted in unison with them. In Ireland, the clergy were by law entitled to the tithe of potatoes, unless where a modus could be shewn to have existed. In three parts of that country, however, the tithe of potatoes was not collected. In Minister, however, it was, even from persons occupying a mere potato-garden, constituting their whole means of subsistence. The tube paid by them sometimes amounted to as much as ten or twenty shillings an acre, and a great many of the holdings were not tithed on a survey of the land, but on a calculation of the tithe-proctors, which the occupier of the land had no means of checking. It was to relieve those persons that he wished to bring in a Bill. Melancholy were the circumstances, in too many instances, under which this severe oppression was inflicted, by the levying the payment of tithe from the poor man's potato-garden. It filled up the sum of Irish misery when the tithe-proctor issued a monition from the Ecclesiastical Courts, and at last swept away any little tangible effects he could find in the poor cottager's cabin. He could assure the Government, that, till the tithe system should be altered, nothing would allay the agitation of Ireland. That system had done more than all the eloquence of all the agitators that ever existed. He wished the Government seriously to consider of means to put that agitation for ever at rest, and it was because the Government had done nothing towards remedying the distresses of the poor of Ireland that he had brought forward his present proposition. He would state one limitation of his measure. He would only exempt the small potato-gardens in those parishes where the composition for tithes was not carried into effect. He hoped that his Majesty's Ministers might be able to put forward some measure for the amelioration of the system of tithes altogether in Ireland, and especially with respect to that part of it which pressed so heavily on the poorer classes of the country. If the Government would show that kindness towards Ireland, no person would be less disposed than himself to embarrass it; but he felt compelled to do something, in order to bring the subject of the sufferings of the poorer classes under the notice of the House, with a view to their speedy relief. The hon. Member concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill he had described at the beginning of his speech.

Mr. Stanley

gave every credit to the hon. Member for the integrity of his intentions, but objected to his proposition, on the ground that it would prove wholly ineffectual for the object which he had in view, while at the same time there were strong objections to it on the ground of principle and justice. Those tithes were the undoubted right of the Church, and it would be an act of injustice to take them away; in addition to which, there was the argument that the Tithe Composition Act was getting more into operation every day, which, of course, rendered the proposition of the hon. Member the less necessary. It should also be remembered, that the principle upon which the Parliament had been legislating for Ireland, during the last two or three years, was the discontinuance of small holdings—[hear, hear, from Mr. O'Connell]. He understood that cheer, but he would not then enter into a discussion of the soundness of that principle. He would only say, that, be the system good or bad, the present proposition was wholly inconsistent with it. He was of opinion, that if the measure of the hon. Member were to succeed, it would afford no relief to the poor of Ireland. He repeated, that he gave the hon. Member every credit for good intention, but justice between man and man should not be violated without some necessary and proportionate advantage being made demonstrably certain. He also objected to the Motion, because it would be holding out false expectations of relief which the measure could not realize, for if such lands were made tithe-free, the landlords would raise the rents of the holders, and thus put in their own pockets that which was intended for the poor.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that he did not think this measure would give relief to the poor of Ireland in a degree adequate to the intentions of the hon. Member who brought it forward. Still, however, he was sorry to see it opposed, and sorry also to see the manner in which it was opposed, for what had fallen from the hon. Secretary for Ireland was something like a sanction, coming from authority, of the deplorable system of oppression which had so long existed in Ireland. He entertained very different expectations from the present Government, for he thought it would have repealed the law to which the hon. Secretary had alluded (the Subletting Act), or at least have made some alterations, with a view of mitigating its horrors, rather than have thus openly vindicated it in that House. The Tithe Composition Act was not quite fair towards the people of Ireland, for it was so arranged, that the clergyman could have, by a little management, the Tithe Composition introduced into his parish if he liked, but the parishioners had no power to say we like the Act, and we will call it into operation. Neither could he admit that the legal right of the clergy to these tithes was so undoubted as the hon. Secretary appeared to think, for, in many districts in Ireland, the tithe of potatoes was not allowed. The hon. Member who had brought forward the proposition had said, that he did not stand upon the right of the people to the exemption, but rather appealed to the benevolent feelings of the clergy. He trusted that the hon. Member would not persevere, under the circumstances, in pressing his Motion to a division; but, if he was resolved to do so, he (Mr. O'Connell) would certainly support him.

Mr. Hunt

observed, that this tithe was a still greater grievance in the West of England than in, Ireland, for the tithe was there 20s. an acre, though the acres were scarcely half as large as those in Ireland.

Mr. Goulburn

contended, that this proposition, if aceded to, would be an act of gross injustice, without any proportionate advantage whatever. The Tithe Composition Act, which the hon. and learned Gentleman had impugned, worked, he believed, remarkably well, and the share he had had in passing that Act gave him great satisfaction. It was coming into general operation, and producing, he believed, mutual good both to the clergyman and the parishioners. With respect to the other matters adverted to, he entirely concurred in what had fallen from the right hon. Secretary for Ireland.

Mr. Dominick Browne

wished to observe, that the disturbances in Ireland were chiefly caused by the potato lithe. At the same time, he thought the answer of the hon. Secretary for Ireland 10 the proposed Bill was quite satisfactory. All the profits of the measure would go to the landlord, and, upon that ground, he could nut support the Motion. He misled, therefore, that the hon. Member would withdraw it.

Mr. J. Grattan

was of opinion, that if some alterations were effected in the Tithe Composition Act, it would be one of the best Acts which had ever been passed for Ireland.

Mr. Ruthven

consented, after what he had heard, to withdraw his Motion.

O'Gorman Mahon

protested strongly against the withdrawal of the Motion, and said, he could not conceive why that House was to be occupied with the discussion of a Motion which was to be at last with- drawn. He thought the measure was calculated to prove very beneficial to Ire- land. All the small holders in Ireland were not tenants at will; some of them were holders for two or three lives, and to them at least the measure would be of great service. He denied that the clergy of Ireland were entitled to those tithes, for they had at various times been appropriated to other purposes than to swell the wealth of the clergy. He also re- marked, that while the tithes were in the hands of the predecessors of the present Established Church, there were no such complaints as those which were now so general. In conclusion, the hon. Member said, that if the hon. Mover did not persevere in dividing the House, he (O'Gorman Mahon) should, with great pleasure, do so himself.

Mr. O'Ferrell

requested the hon. Member to abandon his intention of dividing the House.

O'Gorman Mahon

replied, that if that request had been communicated before he had promised to divide the House, he certainly would have acceded to it.

The House then divided: — For the Motion 1; Against it 133—Majority 132.