HC Deb 02 April 1832 vol 11 cc1234-44
Mr. Stanley

moved the Order of the Day for receiving the Report of the Committee on Tithes in Ireland.

Mr. Bernal

brought up the Report.

Resolutions read as follows:—

1. "That in several parts of Ireland an organized and systematic opposition has been made to the payment of tithe, by which the law has been rendered unavailing, and many of the clergymen of the Established Church have been reduced to great pecuniary distress.

2. "That, in order to afford relief to this distress, it is expedient that his Majesty should be empowered, upon the application of the Lord Lieutenant, or other Chief Governor or Governors of Ireland, to direct that there be issued from the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland such sums as may be required for this purpose, not exceeding in the whole the suns of 60,000l.

3. "That the sums so issued shall be distributed by the Lord Lieutenant, or other Chief Governor or Governors of Ireland, by and with the advice of the Privy Council, in advances proportioned to the incomes of the incumbents of benefices wherein the tithes or Tithe Composition, lawfully due, may have been withheld, according to a scale diminishing as the incomes of such incumbents increase.

4. "That, for the more effectual vindication of the authority of the law, and as a security for the repayment of the sums so to be advanced, his Majesty be empowered to levy, under the authority of an Act to be passed for this purpose, the amount of arrears due for the tithes or Tithe Composition of the whole, or any part, of the year 1831 without prejudice to the claims of the clergy for any arrear which may be due for a longer period; reserving, in the first instance, the amount of such advances, and paying over the remaining balance to the legal claimants.

5. "That there exists an absolute necessity for an extensive change in the present system of providing for the maintenance of the ministers of the Established Church in Ireland; and that such a change, to be satisfactory and secure, must involve a complete extinction of tithes, including those belonging to lay impropriators, by commuting them for a charge upon land, or in exchange for, or investment in, land."

On the Motion that the first Resolution be read a second time,

Mr. Wallace

regretted that so serious and important an interference with the peasantry and landed interest of Ireland had been proposed in the absence of that evidence which the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary for Ireland ought to have produced, before he had pressed the Resolutions upon the House. He had given those Resolutions all the opposition in his power from a conviction, that they would operate most injuriously upon the interests of Ireland, in the delicate and difficult situation in which she at present stood; but the right hon. Gentleman had been supported in his views by such overwhelming majorities as would, perhaps, give any further opposition on his part the character of faction. He would, therefore, decline further opposition; but in order to show what his objects were, and that they were neither factious, nor unreasonable, he meant to submit certain Resolutions to the House as amendments to those reported from the Committee. He intended merely to move them pro forma in order that they might be placed on the Journals, as the permanent justification of himself, and those with whom he acted; and he neither wished to provoke a renewed debate upon a subject already so fully discussed, nor did he intend to call for any division. He would, therefore, take leave of the subject by saying, that he was one who would never call "passive resistance" to the payment of tithe criminal. He begged leave to move the following Resolutions:—

1. "That his most Gracious Majesty having recommended to Parliament, in his speech from the Throne, at the commencement of the present Session, 'to consider whether it might not be possible to effect improvements in the laws respecting tithes in Ireland, which may afford necessary protection to the Established Church, and at the same time remove the present causes of complaint;' and this House having accordingly taken the same into consideration, are of opinion, that it is expedient and necessary that an extensive change in the present system of providing for the maintenance of the ministers of the Established Church should immediately take place; 'and that such change, to be satisfactory and secure, must involve a complete extinction of tithes, including those to lay impropriators; that the clergy should, as far as possible, be removed from all pecuniary collision with the occupying tenants of the land;' and that 'the establishment of a provision for the clergy in lieu of tithes should be one more easy of collection than the present, less burthen some to the occu- pying tenant, and above all, more productive of that harmony and good feeling between the clergyman and his parishioners which, especially in Ireland, are essential to the interests of religion, and to the peace and prosperity of the empire.'

2. "That the existing system of tithe laws in Ireland, and the present mode of providing for the maintenance of the clergy by tithes, have, from their many defects and imperfections, become the occasion of much grievous hardship, oppression, and consequent discontent among the people of Ireland—and have at last produced a very general though 'passive opposition' to the payment of tithe—an opposition eluding, by its being passive, any application of physical force, already extending through several counties in Ireland, and likely, in a short time, to spread over the whole island, unless such a change in the mode of providing for the clergy shall be adopted, as, 'by the extinction of tithes,' and of course abrogating the present system of tithe laws, shall remove the present causes of complaint.

3. "That the opposition to tithes, though general and simultaneous, yet being passive only—and a mere withholding of a tithe debt, appears not to have been deemed a fit subject for criminal prosecution, either of itself, or as constituting an illegal combination—the law officers of the Crown in Ireland not having in any one instance instituted any criminal prosecution against any individual for such resistance as an act of combination or conspiracy: such opposition may, however, have produced a considerable degree of pecuniary distress to some of the clergy; for the relief of such distress this House will be ready to make an adequate provision, by grant out of the Consolidated Fund, as occasion may require, but to be repaid by the clergy out of the arrears now due from the persons indebted, when the Legislature shall have decided on the mode of provision to be adopted for the clergy in lieu of tithe, and of enforcing the same.

4. "That it appearing that in the Committee of the whole House, on the consideration of the First Report of the Select Committee, a Resolution was proposed, grounded on a suggestion contained in that Report, 'That, for the vindication of the law, and as a security for the repayment of sums to be advanced to the clergy, his Majesty be empowered to levy, under the authority of an Act to be passed for the purpose, the amount of arrears of tithes for the whole or any part of the year 1831, without prejudice to the claims of the clergy for any arrear which may be due for a longer period, retaining, in the first instance, the amount of such advances,' this House feels itself bound to declare that such a measure, vesting as it would do, a civil and unascertained claim of the clergy in the Crown for perhaps a portion only of an alleged debt, would not only oppress the subject, by rendering him liable to the double suit of the Crown and the clergy for the same demand, where more than the tithe of one year is due; but would unite and identify the Crown and the clergy as suitors against that class of his Majesty's subjects who are alleged to be tithe debtors; that such union would be a gross violation of the Constitution, by which the Crown should stand in different between all classes of his Majesty's subjects, in relation to their civil rights; whereas, such a union would tend directly and inevitably to oppression and injustice, by giving to the clergy, in the prosecution of their civil claims against the peasantry and land-occupiers of the country, the overwhelming weight of the wealth, power, and influence of the Crown, in addition to whatever means the clergy already possess as suitors in Courts of Justice in recovery of their tithe debts; and finally, such a measure would tend to lessen the dignity of the Crown, by placing it in a situation in which, if a private individual should stand, he would be guilty of the odious crimes of maintenance and champetry—of the one by officiously meddling in suits which no way belonged to him; offending against public justice, by keeping alive strife and contention, and perverting the remedial process of the law into an engine of oppression;—of the other, by purchasing for money a right to sue in another man's name, carrying on other persons' suits at his own expense, and repaying himself out of the proceeds.

5. "That this House cannot but mark with its disapprobation, under such circumstances, a measure at once so injurious to the rights of the subject, and so derogatory from the honour of the Crown; and which instead of vindicating, would powerfully tend to disparage and degrade the law of the land."

Mr. Leader

, in seconding these Resolutions, observed, that if he did not think the Resolutions brought forward by the Government were calculated to increase the difficulties under which both England and Ireland laboured, he should not have opposed them. He was convinced they would be productive of greater mischief to Ireland, and greater expense to England, than the present state of things could cause. He agreed with the hon. member for Middlesex as to the expediency of affording some pecuniary relief to the Irish clergy, but he totally dissented from the proposal of granting Government further powers of coercion, for the purpose of enforcing the claims for arrears. The debt to the clergy was certainly a valid one, but they were by no means so distressed as they had been represented to be. Now, with regard to the additional facilities which coercive measures would afford Government of collecting the arrears of tithes, he would simply mention the fact, that, in the most disturbed district in Ireland, the county Kilkenny, there were no less than thirty military cantonments, and 10,000 men maintained a t an expense of 1,000,000l. per annum and yet they were unable to enforce the payment of tithes. It was, therefore, in the hope of averting further collision between the two parties, and also of further expense to England, in supporting the coercive measures, that he opposed that part of the Government Resolutions which tended to grant those powers.

Amendments negatived without a division.

On the question that the second Resolution be read a second time,

Sir Charles Wetherell

said, he was not surprised that the hon. member for Drogheda declined, as he stated, to provoke discussion on his Resolutions, there being quite sufficient of provocation in the Resolutions which the House was then called upon to receive. They professed to be but five, but, in point of fact, they pledged the House to one thousand and one Resolutions, all of them at variance with the principles of the Constitution. He looked on these Resolutions as a fatal precedent in the parliamentary practice of the country. What he had principally to complain of was, the unceremonious manner in which they put an end to the property of the Church, or decreed a total extinction, to tithes, without in any manner offering, or even recommending, the expediency of a substitute. If the House had been called upon to subvert individual property without making a provision for affording com- pensation, how, he begged to ask, would the proposition be received? Would it not be scouted from the House. And yet here was an instance in which they were called upon to pledge themselves to the utter destruction of Church property, which in point of fact was individual property, without even holding out a hope to its present possessors that compensation would be afforded. In every view of the case he looked upon the course adopted by Ministers, in calling on the House to pledge themselves in the unqualified manner they had on the present occasion, as the establishing of an injudicious and even a dangerous precedent.

Lord Sandon

desired to take that opportunity of entering his protest against the defence attempted to be made by many Members in favour of passive resistance. If that defence was once admitted in palliation of a breach of the law, even though that law be deemed harsh and oppressive by the generality of the people, it was impossible to say to what extent the principle might be carried. For instance, the Game Laws and the Corn Laws were looked upon as most oppressive and harsh enactments; and what was to prevent the people of England, should they perceive their Irish brethren escape all punishment after refusing to pay obedience to the laws directing that certain provisions in the shape of tithe be collected for the maintenance of the Established Church by adopting a system of passive resistance, as it was termed—what, he asked, should prevent the people of England from putting the same plan in force, and thereby elude the operation of the Game or Corn Laws? He was convinced that, if once that principle of passive resistance was admitted as ground of defence, there would, in a short time be an end of all law whatsoever. He knew well that the plan of offering passive resistance to the operation of law was in conformity with the theories of some casuists, who laid it down as one of their leading principles that if an individual was willing to bear the penalty consequent upon a breach of a law he was entitled to disobey. This casuistry, he trusted would not prevail with the people of England. If it did, he would say, "Farewell to the bonds of social order." It had been attempted to compare the feeling on the part of the Catholics on the subject of paying tithes to that on the part of the Quakers to conforming with several of the formalities and customs of the other persuasions; but there was a great difference between a determination to resist a law in force and a desire to conform to religious and peculiar scruples. If the payment of tithes was a matter either of religion or conscience, then the argument would hold good; but, as it happened to be solely an ordination of the law, nothing could be weaker or more untenable. He also desired to avail himself of that opportunity to express his regret at the course which the Irish Members had adopted during the discussion in the House upon that subject. They had almost unanimously advocated passive resistance, thereby following the example set to them by their constituents at home, instead of taking the lead, and by their precepts and conduct, discountenancing the adoption of such a dangerous principle as that to which he alluded, and guiding the people in a safer and more useful line of proceeding. He could not avoid thinking that the want of caution, if not prudence, which they had so unfortunately evinced, would tend much to render the final adjustment of the difference more difficult than it already was.

Mr. Stanley

begged to assure the hon. member for Drogheda, that he had not intended (without meaning any disrespect to him) to offer any observations on the Resolutions which that hon. Member had proposed to the House; but, as he found himself called upon to say a few words in reply to some statements which had been since made, he thought he might as well avail himself of the opportunity to make one or two remarks on those Resolutions. In the first place, the hon. and learned Gentleman had stated in them, that the Committee had recommended the extinction of tithes. That was not the fact. They had unquestionably recommended the extinction of tithes, but only on the condition that an adequate substitute should be provided. The extinction of tithes, as an abstract question, formed no part of their recommendation. The hon. and learned Member was also in error in stating that the Committee had only reported the existence of a system of passive resistance to the payment of tithes. The Committee referred the House to the printed evidence taken before them in the progress of this inquiry, and in it was unquestionable proof of the commission of violence. It was then said, that the pro- ject of Government would be found oppressive to the tenant, for it would subject him to a double instead of a single demand for tithe. This was also an error, for the clergyman, on receiving such sum as Government might think proper to vote in lieu of his demand for tithe for the present year, was to forego all claim for the enforcing of that demand; so that in no possible case could the clergyman and the Crown be sueing for arrears of tithe at the same time. Having said this much on the subject of the Resolutions of the hon. and learned member for Drogheda, he would beg to offer one observation, in reply to a remark made by the hon. and learned member for Boroughbridge, to the effect that it was a dangerous precedent to call on the House to pledge itself to the extinction of any species of property without providing a substitute. He admitted that it would be a bad and a very dangerous precedent to lay down, but he begged to remind the House, that, unless a substitute was provided, those hon. Members who voted in favour of the Resolution were not bound to the extinction of tithes. In the very words of the Resolution the extinction was made dependent upon, and collateral with, the provision of a substitute; and if the substitute was not provided, the pledge of extinction became null and void. The hon. and learned member for Borough-bridge had then argued on the impolicy of providing a substitute, the very outline of which had not been as yet drawn out by Government. He did not know what the sources of information of the hon. and learned Member, as to the Cabinet transactions of Government might be, but he could assure him that he was incorrect in saying, that the outline of the intended plea of substitution had not been drawn up. Indeed, on more than one occasion, it had formed the subject of conversation and discussion before the Select Committee. He might add, that he hoped, in the course of the present Session, to bring forward the measure for the alteration of the system; but until all the evidence was before the Committee, no further steps could be taken in respect to it beyond the Resolutions to which the House had assented.

Mr. O'Ferrall

only wished to defend the conduct of the Irish Members, during the various discussions on the subject of tithes, from the aspersions which he thought had been most unjustifiably cast upon them by the noble Lord (the member for Liverpool). He could assure that noble Lord, that his conduct (and he trusted that the conduct of those with whom he acted) would not be altered by the dictatorial advice which he (Lord Sandon) had thought proper to offer. He had given his opposition to some portions of the Resolutions, because he did not wish that the King's name and popularity, which he begged to inform the House was the only then existing link between England and Ireland, should be hazarded in the collection of an imposition which the Houses of Commons and Lords, if not directly, had indirectly admitted to be harsh, oppressive, and unjust.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that, although he did not approve of the full extent to which the Resolutions went, still he thought it better, on the present occasion, to support them. At the same time, he begged it to be distinctly understood, that he reserved to himself the right of entering into the fullest discussion of all the details of any motion that might be founded upon them, whenever such a measure should be brought before the House.

Mr. Sheil

begged to call to the recollection of the right hon. Secretary for Ireland, that there would, in many instances, be a double demand for tithe in progress of collection; for, as the measure of relief would only extend to the payment of arrears during the past year, in cases where there was an arrear of three years the tenant of land might be sued by the incumbent for two years' arrear, and by the Government for one.

Mr. Stanley

said, the Bill was only to provide for the tithes for 1831, leaving all other arrears as they were.

Mr. Dawson

coincided in opinion with the hon. member for Louth, and could not see how his Majesty's Government could escape from the dilemma in which they had placed themselves in respect to the payment of tithes. He objected to a plan which left it to the Attorney General to recover the amount of tithes due, because such a system must lead to the extinction of tithes. As these Resolutions formed the basis upon which a Bill was to be founded to settle the question, he was most anxious to express his opinion to support the Government in this, as a measure of compensation. He hoped the people of Ireland would not oppose the payment of tithes, when they found that the Government were determined to enforce it. In giving his support to these Resolutions, he must, however, protest against the term used of "extinction of tithes." True it was that the adoption of a measure founded on these Resolutions might remove those collisions which unhappily too often occurred between the peasantry and the tenants, and the clergy, in respect to tithes, but he could not see that it would relieve the people of Ireland, and he must decidedly protest against a system of commutation. Above all things, he was determined to maintain the rights of the clergy, and to take care that no other persons profited by the plan of extinguishing their property.

Mr. Benett

saw no difficulty in effecting a commutation of the Irish tithes for land, as it was not, by any means, essential for the lands to be in Ireland. The Church, as a corporate body, might purchase landed property in England. It was necessary that the tithe property should be bona fide commuted and secured to ecclesiastical uses, not made over to the Irish landholders. He knew no way of securing it but by payment from the land, or in land itself.

Colonel Torrens

said, that while the country gentlemen condemned the passive resistance of the peasantry to tithes, they themselves would resent the payment of a tax on land.

The Resolutions were read a second time and agreed to.

On the reading of the last Resolution a second time,

Mr. Perceval

said, that he entirely concurred with the hon. Gentlemen who had expressed their disapprobation of this Resolution. He conceived it to be a conspiracy against the payment of tithes, and he saw in that conspiracy nothing more nor less than a conspiracy against the continuance of the Protestant Church as the Established Church of Ireland. That was the true and simple fact. He, therefore, could not be a party to that Resolution. He was, however, too well aware of the state of the House to move any Amendment, and, therefore, should content himself by merely entering his protest against such a Resolution.

The Resolution agreed to.

A Bill founded upon the Resolutions was then ordered to be brought in.