HC Deb 12 July 1831 vol 4 cc1092-103
Lord Ingestrie

presented a Petition signed by several Clergymen of the Established Church in Ireland, complaining of the great difficulties, and determined opposition which they experienced in the collection of their tithes, and praying that some legislative measure might be adopted to remedy this evil. He regretted the petition had not been intrusted to some hon. Member of more weight than himself in the House. The petitioners stated, that where they resided it was impossible to collect their tithes without military force, or the risk of loss of life. They attributed this increased spirit of resistance to a letter which had been recently published by a Roman Catholic Prelate, in which he declared the demand for tithe to he unreasonable and unjust. He would not enter at length into the subject, but he was prepared to contend, that the Clergy of the Established Church had as good a right to their tithes as any Gentleman in the country had to his property. He begged leave to ask the right hon. Secretary for Ireland, whether the Government intended to propose any measure, respecting tithes in Ireland, which would relieve the country from the pressure occasioned by its present mode of collection? Should Government be prepared with any such measure, it should have his most cordial support.

An Hon. Member bore testimony to the correctness of the statements in the petition, and hoped the Government would take measures to enable the clergy to collect their tithes. He trusted, also, that Poor-laws, or some other legal provision, would be established in Ireland for the poor; and until that was done, there would always exist these disputes between the tithe payer and receiver.

Mr. Lambert

could not allow the petition to pass, without observing that the inhabitants of that part of Ireland from whence this petition proceeded, had no prejudice in favour of tithes, but they paid them, notwithstanding, in a peaceable and legal manner. There was nothing in existence like the illegal combination which the petition described. He was landlord of two parishes in this diocese, in which there was not a single member of the Protestant Church, and yet there was no illegal combination to resist the payment of tithes. He regretted, that the conduct of the clergy was not always of a nature to command respect. He had known an Exchequer Process issued for an arrear of tithes, that amounted to only 2l. 5s. He considered this a cruel and oppressive mode of collecting an unpopular tax.

Mr. Stanley

was sure the House would agree with him that a subject of such magnitude as that of tithes, which must at no distant period force itself on the attention of the country, ought not to be entered upon incidentally on the presentation of a petition. He did not rise, therefore, to go into the subject, but rather to answer the question which the noble Lord had put to him, whether the Government had in contemplation any measure to remedy the evil complained of. He would state, that there was no subject which more engaged the consideration of Government than the state of the Protestant Establishment in Ireland, and yet there was no subject which they had found more full of difficulty, of delica- cy, and embarrassment, than that. He rejoiced that it should have been introduced to the notice of Parliament by the Clergy of the Established Church, and that they themselves came forward to state the difficulties of tithe collections; yet while he rejoiced at this, he had to regret that in coining forward to ask that aid which Government would be always ready to give, where it could, they had not themselves pointed out some means by which the remedy they sought for might be obtained. No man was more sincerely desirous to support the Established Church of England and Ireland than he was, yet, at the same time, no man was more desirous than he was, to see its property levied with as little inconvenience as possible on those who were to pay it. He had said, that the subject was under the consideration of Government, but he should deceive the House if he were to state, that Government were prepared with any specific plan to remedy the evils and inconveniences connected with this great question. He could state, that it would give Government very great satisfaction to receive any suggestions from, on the one hand, those who were to receive the tithe, and whose property it was, and on the other, those who paid it, and wishing to relieve themselves from the pressure of its collection, were not opposed to the payment of what was the just and equitable right of the clergy. To any suggestions of this kind, which would soften down the difficulties of the case, Government would be always ready to give its best consideration.

Mr. Lefroy

said, it was highly satisfactory to hear what fell from the right hon. Gentleman, as it contained the assurance that the property of the Church would be preserved inviolate. That would tend to allay the apprehensions which existed, of its being the intention of Government to bring forward some measure respecting tithe-property. With respect to the merits of the petition, he must observe, that the petitioners alleged there had been a specific refusal to pay tithes, and the general denial, therefore, of the hon. member for Wexford could have but little weight with the House. The petitioners, who were persons of great respectability, pledged themselves to the correctness of their statement.

Mr. James Grattan

said, that he doubted the correctness of the statements of the petition, for with the exception of one case, where the demand was for 2l. 10s., he had not heard of any refusal to pay tithes in the diocese from which the petition proceeded. If it were the case, as was stated by the noble Lord on the authority of the petitioners, that tithe could not be collected without the aid of an aimed force, it was high time for the Government to take some steps on the subject. It was important to the peace of Ireland that the collection of tithes should be made as light to the people as possible. An allusion had been made by the noble Lord who had presented the petition to a recent publication of a Catholic Bishop. That Prelate had the object in view, of proving the necessity of appropriating part of the rent and Church property in Ireland to the relief and employment of the poor. He (Mr. Grattan) did not desire to see a spoliation of the Church property in Ireland, but he believed if the measure proposed by the rev. Prelate was not carried into effect, neither rent nor tithes would much longer be collected in Ireland.

Sir C. Wetherell

was surprised to hear that there was such difficulty in the collection of tithes in Ireland. He had understood, that the effect of the Tithe Composition Act had removed many of the difficulties complained of in the collection. He had always heard that Act spoken of as being popular in Ireland, and he was sorry now to hear it had failed in producing the desired effect. The petitioners should not have confined themselves to general statements, that tithes could not he collected without the assistance of the military or able powers, but should have stated precisely where the difficulty lay, and mentioned the instances of the collection of tithes being so levied.

Mr. James E. Gordon

said, that if hon. Members supposed, that no resistance was made to the payment of tithes before the Newtownbarry affair, they were greatly deceived, He could state, that in many parts of the south of Ireland resistance was made to the payment of tithes, and that, in some cases, to such an extent, that clergymen were absolutely starved out of their residence by it, and were actually obliged to borrow money from their friends to bring them over to England. He ventured distinctly to assert, that the resistance to pay tithes did not originate in the affair of Newtownbarry, and was almost general in the South of Ireland.

Mr. O'Connell

begged to deny, in the most distinct and unequivocal terms, the statement of the hon. member for Dundalk (Mr. Gordon), that a general resistance was made to the collection of tithes in the South of Ireland, and he called on the hon. Member to name the counties in which it took place. Even in the unhappy county of Clare there was no case of attack on clergymen on account of tithes, except one instance, where a clergyman demanded one half year's tithes three times over, which was rather too bad, even for Ireland. Out of thirty-five clergymen of the Established Church there, only one had been attacked, in consequence of some quarrel his son had been engaged in. The remaining thirty-four had been unmolested. There had been something like resistance in a part of the county of Kilkenny and the King's County, but in one of those cases it arose from the clergyman refusing to bring his parish under the Tithe Composition Act, and he still persevered in his refusal. The disinclination to pay tithes had sprung from this spot, and was in danger of spreading further. These were the only cases of resistance of which he knew. But the hon. member for Dundalk was incorrect in his geography, if he supposed that either of those counties were in the south of Ireland. The hon. Member ought to be better acquainted with the points of the compass than he (Mr. O'Connell) was, and ought to have known that those counties were not in the South. He again denied, that there was any such resistance in the South. There was a sort of passive resistance. For instance, cattle seized for tithe were sometimes branded "tithe," and then nobody would buy them. Could an Act of Parliament be passed to compel the people to purchase these cattle? The feeling out of which this combination not to purchase arose, could not surprise any person who knew the means by which the collection of tithe could be enforced, and the oppressive modes sometimes resorted to. The clergy possessed by law ample means to enforce the payment of tithe; they possessed no less than six remedies at present. The great body of the Catholics of Ireland were quite as willing as their Protestant brethren to pay to the clergy of the Establishment the most ample remuneration that could be proportioned to the duty they had to perform; but it was a source of murmurs and discontent to find some of them paid so extravagantly out of all proportion to what they did. There was, for instance, the see of Derry, now vacant, which was worth 25,000l. or 30,000l. a year. It was returned at 22,000l., and that was under the mark. Besides, there were 96,000 acres of arable land belonging to it. This was a matter of measurement on which there could be no doubt. Now, he would say, that with all the disposition to pay the clergy of the Established Church the fullest remuneration for the duties they had to perform, it was enough to breed discontent, to see this immense wealth poured into the lap of one clergyman while thousands of the poor peasantry around were starving. The country was almost overladen with provisions, the granaries were bursting with corn, and the people were dying of hunger. The noble Lord who had presented the petition, had alluded to a pamphlet published by Doctor Doyle: why did not the noble Lord, or some of the petitioners, answer that pamphlet? It stated as an historical fact which could not be denied, that tithes were unknown in Ireland, Until they were introduced by the English, who came over with Strongbow. When tithes were first established in Ireland, one third of their produce was set a part for the support of the poor, but now not a single shilling was appropriated to that purpose.

Mr. James E. Gordon

had always supposed Kilkenny was in the south of Ireland, but he would again examine his compass and ascertain if it had shifted its position to the north. The hon. and learned Member, however, admitted, wherever the county was situated, that a combination such as he had described did exist, and he was quite prepared, if necessary, to substantiate his statement by facts.

Sir Robert Inglis

said, the hon. and learned member for Kerry, could not mean to assert, that the Bishop of Derry held 96,000 acres of land; he must mean the land left by former Bishops, and let out by their successors on leases for lives, under which the holders derived very considerable interest. Indeed, it was well known that lands of that description were held by families for a succession of years, and transmitted by them like other hereditary property. He also wished to draw the attention of the hon. and learned Gentleman to the real state of the Church property in the diocese in which Carlow was situated. He did this because he had referred to a pamphlet written by Doctor Doyle. Now, of the thirty-three livings in that part of the country, not one was equal to the value of 1,000l., per year, but three or four were equal to 500l. a year, and the majority of the remainder did not come up to 250l. per year. If this was too much for the working clergy, what were they to expect next.

Sir Robert Bateson

said, that the hon. Baronet was mistaken with regard to Bishops' lands, as leases of them could only be made for twenty-one years. The hon. and learned member for Kerry also had no foundation for attributing such an income to the see of Derry, for it appeared by a paper which had been recently laid upon the Table, that the bishoprick of Deny was only rated at 12,000l. a-year— a large sum, he admitted, for a Bishop. He could also state, that the Bishop of Derry did not receive a fifth part of the value of his lands. He contended, that though the hon. and learned Member had stated that there was no systematic resistance to the payment of tithes in Ireland, his whole speech proved, that the very reverse of that assertion was the fact.

Mr. Maxwell

said, the hon. and learned member for Kerry had asserted, that the claim made for tithes at Newtownbarry was for three half-year's tithes in one year; but this was not the fact. The distress was made for two half-year's tithes, which were due: it was right also to add that neither the police nor Yeomanry fired a single shot until they had been fired on by the people.

Mr. D. W. Harvey

understood, from admissions and assertions on all sides, that there were upwards of 90,000 acres of land which might be considered as public property, although called Church land which were all under the control of one clerical dignitary, the see to which they were attached being then vacant. With that vacancy he had nothing to do; he was willing to leave that to the control of persons authorized by the Constitution to dispose of it. It was indifferent to him whether these 90,000 acres were leased out profitably, or how the Bishop received his income whether in the shape of rent or fines. One thing, however, was clear, whether it was delayed a year or two, or not, that such a system must come to an end in a country like this, ground to the earth by fiscal oppressions. It was not to be believed, that an expounder of the pure doctrines of Christianity, whose chief excellence was its humility, could pay proper attention to those doctrines, while he laboured, under so heavy an earthly incumbrance as the exclusive superintendence of 96,000 acres of land. It was immaterial from what source the Bishop of Derry drew his income of 12,000l. a year, that was six times too much for any Bishop, and the possession of such enormous revenues only tended to bring the whole Establishment into discredit,

On the question that the Petition be laid on the Table,

Colonel Conolly

said, the hon. and learned member for Kerry had volunteered a statement in contradiction of the hon. member for Dundalk, but had totally failed in proving it. A systematic opposition did prevail, and the members for Kilkenny, now present, knew that in their own county Doctor Butler's Tithe-proctor had been murdered. He knew, that clergymen of parishes which compounded for tithes could not get the amount of their composition. This occurred in the case of a clergyman in the diocese of Ossovy, and he had heard that individual declare, that he should be obliged to borrow money for his support, while he was afraid, from the system which prevailed, that he might be unable to pay it. He knew other clergymen, in the county of Kilkenny and the Queen's county, who were in great distress from being unable to collect their incomes. He would say, not only that they could not get their tithes, but that those persons who were well inclined to pay, were so exposed to intimidation, that they did not dare to pay them. He knew several clergymen who were suffering in this way, but he would confine his statement to one, the Dean of St. Patrick's, whose care and superintendence of his parish was exemplary, and when he was reluctantly obliged to levy a distress, it was necessary to have a body of troops in readiness to sustain his rights. The great body of the clergy in the diocese of Ossory were at this moment suffering severe privations from the resistance of the people to the legal and just demands of the clergy.

Lord Duncannon

said, that within the county of Kilkenny, no organized system of refusal to pay tithe prevailed. Undoubtedly, during the year some very unpleasant circumstances had occurred, which had not originated in a refusal to pay tithes, but in levies made for Church cess. With the exception of the tithe proctor of Dr. Butler, who had been cruelly and barbarously murdered, he knew of no act of violence; but, such was the feeling on this subject, that almost every gentleman and fanner in the country subscribed for the discovery of the murderer. The composition Act, he must say, had not given general satisfaction. It was undoubtedly much better than the system of collecting by tithe-proctors, and if the average were fairly taken it would give satisfaction; but hon. Gentlemen must be aware, that these averages had been taken in the way most favourable to the clergymen—as they had been made with reference to the prices of grain from 1814 to 1821.

Mr. Goulburn

thought the noble Lord was mistaken with regard to the averages, as the difference could not be much in favour of the clergy, if they were taken within the seven years named by the noble Lord. The Tithe Composition Act did not come into operation at once in the various parishes where it now prevailed, and the sums agreed to be paid were regulated by the price of corn for the seven years before the composition.

Mr. Spring Rice

was sure the disagreeable circumstances stated by his noble friend, the member for Kilkenny, might be traced to other causes besides those slated. The great inconvenience of the Composition Act was, that it had been applied for many years in vain, and when it did pass it was so reluctantly conceded, that it gave dissatisfaction. The right hon. Gentleman must be aware of his meaning, for a similar bill was rejected by him the year before. He(Mr. Spring Rice) had then stood in the spot now occupied by the right hon. Gentleman, who being then a Minister, not only rejected the bill, but scoffed and laughed at it, declaring it to be unsuited to the circumstances of the times; and yet, the very next year he came forward with this bill. Some resolutions which had been agreed to by the Irish Members, were put into the right hon. Gentleman's hands, and though he then termed them injudicious, yet he afterwards made them the ground-work of the bill he introduced. Even to his bill there was an opposition on the part of the Church. The remedy was by these means applied too late, and the delay which had occurred in this reform, as in the case of others, equally necessary, and long refused, had been the great cause of the present discontents.

Mr. Cole

begged to state, that in the parish in which he lived, where the land was generally worth 2l. per acre, the composition was only 6d. per acre, and on inferior land in the parish was not more than 3d.

Petition laid on the Table.

Lord Ingestrie

wished to be allowed to offer one or two observations on moving the petition be printed. In reply to the assertion of the hon. member for Kerry, who had declared there was no organized system to oppose the payment of tithes, he would observe, that the statement of the hon. and learned Member, that the cattle were branded, and that nobody would purchase them, proved the existence of the organized system—by the hon. and learned Member, this was not to be called opposition. He apprehended, however, it must be so considered. He had not stated, that personal violence was in all cases resorted to, but under the present circumstances of Ireland, it was likely to be of frequent occurrence.

Mr. O'Connell

said, none of the facts had been contradicted which he had mentioned. The hon. member for Oxford had given them a short treatise on the Diocese of Derry, and stated that the lands of the bishoprick were let on leases for lives; but here he had been corrected by the hon. member for Deny, who had, however, omitted to mention, that in addition to the 12,000l. a-year, the income of the See, there was to be added the fines on renewals. The Bishop had also the power of running his life against leases, as other Bishops had done, and thus, together with the fines, amassed large fortunes. It was a remarkable fact, that the late Bishop of Derry had actually presented twice over to every living within, his diocese, and had all this patronage in addition to his immense income. The hon. member for Ca-van (Mr. Maxwell) had contradicted him— asserting that the seizure at Newtownbarry was only for two half-year's tithes; but he had not asserted that the seizure was made for three half-year's but that three half-year's had been claimed, and whether that were correct or not, was an open question, yet pending in the Courts, and, of course, pending when the seizure was made. Hon. Gentlemen, he was sorry to observe, still defended the course pursued there, and asserted that the Yeomanry and Police did not fire, until fired upon. Captain Graham, indeed, asserted, that he bad given no orders to fire, and no person could be found who had given such orders; and as no person would acknowledge having given such orders, he was justified in terming it a massacre. It was also clearly proved, that the Yeoman who was shot, was killed by one of his own party; and yet, although twenty poor men were in their graves, he had not heard one word of commiseration, as if it was of no importance how much Irish blood was shed, when the struggle was, to obtain half-a-year's tithe.

Mr. Goulburn

was anxious to set himself right with the House, as the hon. member for Limerick, had said of him, that the year before the Tithe Composition Act was passed, he had rejected one of a similar nature, and had scoffed at the proposition. It had been frequently acknowledged in the House, that it was extremely inconvenient to refer to what had taken place in former Parliaments; but, in this case, he must be allowed to refer to what he had actually said on the proposition for the commutation of tithes. It was right to state, that this arose from a meeting of Irish Members, and the hon. Gentleman had then brought the Resolutions to him. When the question came on in this House, on the 19th of June, nearly the end of the Session, he had said, "he would not then enter into a discussion whether it was possible, considering-all the various and complicated interests that were involved in this subject, to come to any satisfactory system of commutation; but he was sure, that every Gentleman would admit, that if such a system were practicable, it would require great and serious consideration—it would demand full and patient inquiry, and it would be necessary to make provision and arrangements for the equivalent for tithes, which were to be considered in very different points of view—because they were applied to parishes placed under very different circumstances. With regard to the abstract question of the commutation of tithes, if it was proposed to proceed upon the principle of justice, if a full and fair equivalent was to be given for the property to be taken away, and if the offer were voluntarily accepted by the Clergy, to such a system of commutation, he should not only have no objection, but if it was proposed, he would give it his warmest support.*" These remarks were * Hansard's Parl. Debates, New Series, vol. vii. p. 1186. made during the first year he had accepted office in Ireland, and the next year he had introduced the bill in question. Was that scoffing—was that treating with irreverence the resolutions which the hon. Gentleman had proposed at the Thatched-house Tavern? He thought not, and he left the House to judge of the justice of the charge made by the hon. Member.

Mr. Spring Rice

recollected the circumstances the hon. Gentleman had alluded to, but the words "injudicious" and "unstated to circumstances" were still ringing in his ears, though the occasion on which they were uttered was not that to which the hon. Gentleman had referred. They had been spoken in the House, in reply to Resolutions by which it was wished to give a fair equivalent to the Church: the words were repeated, and it was asked, "a full and fair equivalent! where was it to be had, how was it to be done, and not alter the title?" he recollected the resolution, also, to which the right hon. Gentleman decidedly said, he could not assent. The other part, of his statement, that the Church was unfavourable to the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman well knew to be correct, and he also knew, that the present Act was considered as a boon by the people, and that the delay in passing it prevented it from having all the good effects anticipated from it. The right hon. Gentleman had taunted him with having proposed the Resolutions; but there was no act of his life with which he was more satisfied.

Mr. Goulburn

believed these Resolutions were agreed to in May, and he was authorized by the volume of the Debates which he held in his hand, to say, that the only sentiments he entertained upon the subject after that time, were those he had read to the House, and which were anything but irreverent or disrespectful to the subject.

Petition to be printed.