HC Deb 09 April 1832 vol 12 cc85-96

On the question that the Speaker leave the Chair,

Mr. Ruthven

hoped, that, from the thin state of the House, his Majesty's Ministers would not urge their going into a Committee on the Bill then, but that further time should be afforded for consideration, and for additional information from Ireland.

Mr. Maurice O'Connell

said, that he rose to urge upon the noble Lord, and the right hon. Gentleman opposite, one argument for delay, which had not as yet been put. It was this—this Bill was printed only on Thursday morning—it had been read a second time on Friday—the people in Dublin could not have had it until that morning—and Irish Members were called on to go into the Committee without having had the opportunity of knowing how the provisions of the Bill had been received in Ireland. It might be, that the feeling against the Bill would be mitigated when the actual provisions of it were known. For himself he would say, that one part of the Bill was, in his opinion, calculated to make them judge less harshly of the general measure; he alluded to the provisions with respect to costs—which, as they were to have such a Bill struck him as wise and salutary, and surely any delay that might accrue would be amply atoned for, if by such delay the Irish people could at all be reconciled to the measure. He put these matters plainly to the noble Lord. The delay until Thursday could not produce any evil consequence, and it would give time to hon. Members to hear from their constituents on this interesting subject.

Lord Althorp

observed that it was not necessary to have a full House for the consideration of this Bill, as those more particularly interested in it were present, and would have a better opportunity of discussing it, clause by clause, in Committee. With reference to the remarks of the hon. member for Clare, he must say that, though the Bill was not known, the resolutions on which it was founded had been already so amply and frequently discussed, that he saw no reason whatever for delaying going into Committee.

Mr. John Browne

complained that members for Ireland, who took part against this Bill, improperly arrogated to themselves the character of Representatives of Ireland. He thought the measure would tend to the future peace and prosperity of Ireland. He adopted the whole speech of the Solicitor General for Ireland. If the Government had not made this stand, they would be unworthy of the confidence of the country. He never would court that ephemeral popularity which was too much sought after by some of the Irish Representatives.

Lord Killeen

said, he should not propose any further delay, nor should he suggest any amendment. He must, however, again protest against the Bill, which he felt confident would not be successful. He was not one of those alluded to by the hon. Member (Mr. Browne) who courted ephemeral popularity.

Mr. Stanley

said, his hon. friend (Mr. Browne) could have meant no reflection on his noble friend. He alluded to those Gentlemen who were in the habit of claiming to be the sole Representatives of Ireland. In order to meet the objections of those who opposed the Bill, as much as possible, Ministers had determined to take off the restrictions as to the amount at which causes for the recovery of tithes might be brought into the Assistant Barrister's Court. He should move an Amendment in the Committee, allowing causes of any amount to be tried in the Court alluded to, and merely giving power to the Attorney General to carry the causes into the Court of Chancery, if he saw fit grounds for so doing.

The House then went into a Committee.

On the first Clause being read,

Mr. Maurice O'Connell

said, he was not one of those who courted ephemeral popularity, or arrogated to themselves the title of sole Representatives of Ireland. He pretended only to speak the sentiments of his own constituents, whom he knew to be hostile to the measure. He denied that he was, the advocate of a class or of a faction; he was on the contrary, the advocate of the Irish people; emphatically he would say the Irish people. He and those Members who acted with him had supported the Government in all the proper measures which they had proposed, and, that, too when English and Scotch Members did not find it convenient to attend to their duty in this House. The almost universal sense of Ireland was opposed to this Bill, and it was too much to coerce them without doing a necessary act of justice. The resistance to tithes was at present of a negative character, and this Bill would make it positive and only add another to the many evils which oppressed unhappy Ireland. Since this measure was brought forward the petitions against tithes had been more numerous than they were before, and he was sure that three parts of the most intelligent persons in Ireland were against the measure now proposed by his Majesty's Government. The evidence of a Mr. Walsh had been a good deal relied upon by the Government. It was said that Mr. Walsh was a Catholic; but he was sure that the noble member for Kilkenny would not say that Mr. Walsh was a gentleman whose Representations should be relied upon. But, to put that evidence aside, he would beg to ask why should the Government act the part of the tithe-proctors? No doubt it would relieve the parsons; but why relieve them at the expense of the public? The people of Ireland were aggrieved by the system of tithes, and it was the duty of Members in that House to sympathise with them. He and some other Irish Members had done so ineffectually; but that would not deter them from the fair discharge of their duty which they owed to their constituents. He was not the advocate of the seditious, nor of the Terry Alts; but he wished to do justice to the people of Ireland. It was said that a servile war had prevailed in that country, or at least in parts of it; and to what cause was that to be attributed? To the system of tithes, to oppressive rents, and to bad landlords. During the war the rents were well-paid, while tithes were resisted, and no human effort could now reconcile the people to their payment. The Government might sell their goods under this Bill, the gaols might be crowded with victims, but the result would be a still greater abhorrence to tithes. For himself he would say, that he was friendly to a repeal of the Union; and he was satisfied that this measure would materially tend to increase the number of those who supported that measure.

Mr. Leader

said, that, having, in the previous discussions on this important question, declared the impossibility of his being induced to support any measure of coercion to enforce the payment of the arrears of the tithe in Ireland, without such a measure being accompanied with a remedial one calculated to tranquillize the agitated mind of the country, and to conciliate the affections of the people; and the House having resolved to go into Committee on the Bill for making the tithe payers of Ireland in arrear for the tithe of 1831 King's debtors, by combining the powers and revenues of the Church with those of the Crown against the people, he was bound to submit his judgment to that of the House, and to surrender his opposition to the principle of the Bill. However great, therefore, was his disapprobation of the measure, it became his duty to suggest and propose any measure which occurred to him, as likely to render it less expensive, and least oppressive to the country. And as, in the course of the debates, expressions galling to the feelings of Irishmen had at different times escaped in the course of these discussions, and observations unworthy and unjust had been occasionally thrown upon the opposers of this novel and dangerous measure, he must be excused for saying, that no aspersion uttered in that House or elsewhere could prevent Ireland from being considered other than a powerful and important country—greatly neglected, and too long subjected to misrule and misgovernment; and as the Members of Ireland who had opposed the coercive measures of the Government, had been taunted as not representing the Irish people, he would repel that statement by a single observation. The Irish Gentlemen who had opposed the measure—thirty-three Members for counties, cities, and populous towns—were greater in importance than all the Tory Members who had opposed Ministers in this and the last Parliament. If the question was left between those whom he must consider the friends of Ireland and their opponents, undoubtedly, the majority would be found on the side of the people; and if the question was to depend on the number of the Irish Representatives who were opposed to the measure, and of those who supported the Government, the independents would be found superior to the regular opponents of the Government, and greater in their numbers than the Irish Members who had been the unvarying friends of the present Administration. Under those circumstances, he strenuously asserted, that no consideration but the feeling of paramount and imperious necessity and duty to their constituents could have induced thirty-three Irish Members, well disposed to give a reforming Ministry their most zealous support, to resist for the last five weeks this ill-judged and arbitrary measure. The aspersions on Ireland and the taunts on the conduct of the Irish Representatives had not had the effect of diverting his mind from a determined and constitutional resistance to this baneful expedient. He had been told by high authority in that House that a remedy for the existing grievances in Ireland would be prepared at the same time that any application was made for extraordinary powers—and as such powers were necessary to enforce the laws, proper remedies should be applied to remove all admitted grievances. He regretted to say, that he communicated with his constituents, and expressed his most sanguine expectation that they should speedily have to congratulate one another on the abolition of tithes, and that the payment of the arrear of 1831 would be of light and trivial moment when contrasted with the paramount importance of the extinction of this (as regards the Catholic occupiers of the soil) unjust and ruinous impost. He greatly lamented that he had not been able to realize the expectation which he held out not only to his constituents but to the members of public bodies who intrusted him with the presentation of their petitions. The clergy had been relieved, and the coercive measure, he might say, was now passed, and it was still open to him sincerely and ardently to hope that the remedial measure might now receive the same influential and decided support from his Majesty's Government, as the coercive measure had heretofore received. When, in the preamble of the Bill it was stated, that it was necessary to make special enactments, in order to vindicate the authority of the law, and to provide immediate relief for such of the clergy as were suffering from the deprivation of their incomes, by unlawful combination, he would beg to call the attention of the House to the nature of the old composition law which was sought to be vindicated, not by enforcing obedience to the law itself, but by a new-fangled legislation, uniting the Crown and the Church, and conferring extraordinary powers and resources against the people. By an Act passed in the fourth year of the reign of his late Majesty, George 4th, entitled "An Act to provide for the establishment of the composition for tithes in Ireland, for a limited time," sect. 38, it was thereby enacted, amongst other things, "That the amount of such composition and the several portions thereof, payable according to such assessments and applotments, and all arrears thereof, from time to time, not exceeding the amount of one whole year of such composition, shall be a charge on the land specified in such assessments and applotment, during the continuance of such composition, and shall be payable by the occupier or occupiers of such lands, or by the owner of such lands, occupying the same for the time being, according to the quantity of such land, which each occupier shall from time to time, hold and occupy; and that it shall be lawful for the incumbent, and for every and any other person, or persons, or body politic, or corporation, or corporate collegiate or corporation, entitled to such composition, or any part, share, or portion thereof, or to cause the same to be levied upon the several lands specified in such assessment, or applotment, and on the several occupiers of such lands for the time being, in preference to any other charge upon such lands by all the ways and means allowed by law for the recovery of rent; and it shall and may be lawful for any collector, or person appointed to collect and levy the amount of such composition, from time to time, as the same shall become due, and every such collector so appointed shall collect and levy, and is hereby authorized, empowered, and required to collect and levy all and every sum and sums of money which shall become due from time to time in respect of such corporation to the incumbent or other person or body politic, or corporate, or collegiate, or corporation, in whose behalf such collector shall be appointed to levy the same."—Such being the power under the Composition Act, and it being admitted in evidence that the amount of tithe bore a small proportion to the amount of property of the tithe-payer, and it being also put beyond all doubt by the parliamentary official returns, that an immense force of police and army were spread over the surface of the districts in which the arrear of 1831 was due, and that three-fourths of the debt to the clergy consisted of arrears of composition rent, he would ask on what ground did the right hon. the Secretary for Ireland contend for new and extraordinary powers? Would he contend that if the Crown was assignee of the composition rent and the tithe, and possessed ample power under the existing law to distrain for composition rent, and levy the amount of decrees for tithes granted at Quarter Sessions, and along with those powers, there was a certainty of finding abundant effects, and an overwhelming force of civil and military on the spot, in the name of Heaven, what more did the right hon. Gentleman require to recover this 60,000l. advanced to the clergy? Were not the existing laws, the existing means of the tithe-payers, and the existing civil and military force of the, country, sufficient to vindicate the law, if the vindication of the law was the great object of his care, his vigilance, and his solicitude? He would ask the right hon. Gentleman, if he had these powers, why should he require greater? With these ample and undoubted powers, why was it that he had brought in this Act to make the King's subjects the King's debtors, and when thus accountable to the Crown, make not only their lands on which the tithe grew, but all their lands liable to the demand of the Crown; and, as he would assert, under the authority of Hughes's case, in Gilbert's Exchequer, 126, as King's debtor, also make them liable to execution, so that they could not he bailed? Would the Solicitor General deny, that by the Common-law, execution might be issued, not only against the goods and chattels, but the lands of the King's debtor; could be deny that by 21st and 22nd Edward 3rd, c. 20, in the Irish Statutes, "all obligations to the King shall have the force of a Statute staple—the King shall be preferred in suit and execution; all lands which any persons accountable to the King have, whilst so accountable, are liable to the King's debt, and the Court of Exchequer, may order the estate of King's debtors to be sold by summary process." Against this, under these circumstances, coercive law, founded on the worst principles of legislation, he entered his solemn protest. For such an Act of Parliament he never was prepared, on bringing up the Report of the Tithe Committee. There was no precedent for such a law in the worst times of British or even Irish legislation, and a bad precedent for Ireland was not without its danger to Great Britain. For his part, as he could not offer further resistance to the Bill, he would move in the third clause, "that all remedies now existing for the recovery of such tithe, or composition for tithes respectively, shall rest in his Majesty, his heirs and successors, and such tithe and composition for tithes, shall be recovered and enforced by the proceedings, and in the manner heretofore used for the recovery of such tithes, or composition for tithes respectively, and not otherwise;" and also after the fourth clause, he would move a provision that nothing contained in the Act should render the person or persons making such default as aforesaid, liable as accountant or debtor to the Crown, further than he or they would be in case this Act had not passed, and that all proceedings taken under this Act should be taken in the name of the ecclesiastical person obtaining relief, by virtue of the provisions hereinbefore contained; and then he should move that the remainder of this Act, with all its new and dangerous, crude and ill-digested machinery, should be entirely omitted—being bound by the Resolutions of the House not to oppose further the grant or loan of 60,000l. to the clergy, and being bound by the further Resolution of the House to give the Crown the means of recovery, he had endeavoured, without further encroachments on the best principles of the Constitution, to suggest the remedy which in his mind would be amply adequate to the existing emergency. When the people of Ireland found that Parliament was pledged to the extinction of tithes, and the Crown had become the assignee only of the existing arrears, he entertained the hope that without the enactment of new and odious powers, the existing laws would be found sufficient to enforce the payment of what was fairly due to the clergy. Did the right hon. Gentleman imagine that the landlords of Ireland had not an equal interest as the occupiers of the soil, in these novel, dangerous, and expensive proceedings? Were journeys of tenants, with their witnesses, to attend the Master's office—of the Chancery and Exchequer expenses, undeserving of the smallest consideration? Were defences to the proceedings of his Majesty's Attorney General so trifling and inconsiderable as to be matters too insignificant to arrest the attention of an Administration, whose sole care and time was unfortunately occupied in subjects of more interest to themselves, and of more importance to the country? He would ask the right hon. Secretary, was not the produce of the Irish soil subjected already to abundant encumbrance, without placing the suitor's agent in Chancery, for he must be first paid, as an encumbrance before the Crown, the Church, or the landlord? Could the tithe-payers be defended without a heavy advance for the expenses of witnesses obliged to take long journeys, and solicitors who would not be disposed to give much credit, or make advances for Crown debtors? In that entire measure, the interest of the landlord was indissolubly linked with the interest of the tithe payer. Would any one deny, that tithes, and law costs, and costs of witnesses, and Equity Courts, must all come out of the produce of the land? Were there manufactories, or was there a prosperous foreign commerce in Ireland to supply the deficiency? Under these circumstances, would any one say, that when the land must bear the burthen those who depend on the proceeds of the land, must not be prepared to submit to privation and loss? He knew the answer, which was prepared and ready, to his earnest solicitude to adhere to the existing laws of the country it was "no sales can be effected if made under distress, and it was necessary that proper examples should be made of determined and incorrigible combinators;" to this answer he would reply, the people would probably never pay the clergy, and certainly with the greatest discontent would never pay the Crown—but still his belief, founded on a knowledge of the people, and the landlords of Ireland, that property probably to the value of 600,000l., would never be permitted to be destroyed; the lands would not be denuded of cattle, and the industry of the country suspended, for the purpose of resisting this demand, particularly when there was not only a great probability, but a certainty, of the extinction of tithe. For once he placed the greatest confidence in the justice, temper, and generous reliance, on the good sense of the country. If haughty, insulting, and irritating mea- sures, were unwise and reprehensible against individuals, much more indefensible were they when directed against an excited and populous community. He considered it to be his good fortune to have lived in uninterrupted affection with those Irishmen who were amongst the greatest ornaments of that House; who, in times of public commotion, and of impending foreign invasion, resisted the Arms Bill for Ireland as oppressive and tyrannical, and who permitted the Insurrection Act to continue a dead letter on the Statute-book, when Magistrates from various parts of Ireland required it to quell dangerous disturbances in most critical and dangerous times. On these occasions, their hopes of tranquillity were not in flying to new laws, but in endeavouring to vindicate the old ones. Would any one tell him that if the arrear of tithe for 1831, instead of being confined to a small district, as he knew it was, were general over Ireland, that the landed interest, from the highest to the lowest, would not be reduced by this Bill to a state which it was painful to contemplate, and on which he could not trust himself to dilate? He thought it not improbable that men of condition and resolution might be sent to gaol as debtors of the Crown, and might come out of it as Representatives of the people. He was no friend to laws which converted good subjects into Crown debtors, and if rewards were to be conferred, he would prefer seeing them reserved for persons whose lives were devoted peaceably to the interests of their country, rather than to those who by resistance to improvident laws had won the esteem and ensured the confidence of the people. He had no amendments to propose but those he had suggested, and as a remedial measure for the abolition of tithes had not preceded this coercive measure, he would conclude, by expressing his deep regret, that it had been introduced at a moment when the attention of Parliament was so exclusively devoted to other subjects of such great importance, as almost to preclude the possibility of all the great constitutional principles involved in this important question being adequately considered and discussed.

Mr. Crampton

had already troubled the House too often on this Bill; he would, therefore, only observe, in answer to what had been said by the hon. Member, that the Bill contained no provision for arrest, save in execution, and that the prerogative rights of the Crown had been ceded in the Bill; neither could the costs of proceeding fall on the landlord or tenant, but on the clergyman, and as to the Attorney or Solicitor General, he could say, that they would derive no increase of emolument under this Bill.

Clause agreed to.

Several other Clauses were also, after a few verbal Amendments, agreed to.

On the clause providing for the issuing of proclamations calling for the payment of the arrears of tithe, and notifying, in case of default, that proceedings would be taken on the part of the Crown within one month from the date of the insertion of such proclamation in The Dublin Gazette, being put,

Mr. Ruthven

objected to the clause; as The Dublin Gazette was a publication never seen in many parts of the country, and quite unknown in others. Such a proclamation as that proposed would afford no notice at all to the people. He should not divide the House, but could not avoid expressing his objection to this clause.

Mr. Stanley

said, the object of the clause was merely to afford legal evidence of the issuing of the proclamation, and that care would be taken by the Government to distribute copies of the proclamation through the country.

Mr. Sheil

suggested that the proclamation should be inserted in the newspapers published in the several counties where it was sought to enforce the provisions of this Bill. On consideration, perhaps, the expense of such a publication might be considered too great, and all he would ask was, that copies of the proclamation should be extensively circulated and posted through the several districts. He should, therefore, suggest the propriety of making an addition to the clause to that effect.

Mr. Crampton

could not hesitate to acquiesce in the suggestion of the hon. and learned member for Louth, inasmuch as all the Government sought by the clause was, to give ample and sufficient notice to all parties concerned of the intentions of the Government.

The clause, as amended, agreed to.

Several other clauses were then agreed to.

On the clause exempting all proceedings under the Act for Stamp duties and office fees being read,

Mr. Crampton

moved, as an amendment—"That no costs should be due or payable under this Bill, except as before provided for."

Mr. Lefroy

objected to this amendment, as he thought it most unjust to mulct the clergy, and protect those defendants who had voluntarily become defaulters. This was nothing short of holding out a premium to combination.

The Committee divided on the Amendment: Ayes 107; Noes13—Majority 94.

List of the NOES.
Clerk, Sir G. Lefroy, A.
Cole, Lord Maxwell, H.
Fitzgerald, Sir A. Shaw, F.
Hayes, Sir E. Somerset, Lord G.
Holmes, W. Vyvyan, Sir R.
Jones, T. Young, J.
Lefroy, T.

The remaining clauses agreed to.

On the preamble being read,

Mr. Ruthven

moved, that all the words after "whereas," be omitted, for the purpose of inserting these words—" A general disposition against the payment of tithes has existed in many parts of Ireland, and the ordinary course usually practised in the payment thereof has been relinquished, so that numbers of the clergy are reduced to a state of great distress, and it has become necessary and expedient to provide immediate means for their relief." He moved this Amendment in consistency with his previous opposition to other parts of the Bill, but he would not trouble the Committee to divide upon it. His complaint was, that the people of Ireland were charged with an illegal combination against the payment of tithes, whereas the reason for the non-payment was, a stimultaneous feeling against it, which operated in the same manner upon all persons.

The question having been put,

Mr. Crampton

said, if there was one fact on which the whole of the Committee, and of the witnesses were agreed, without a shade of difference, it was, as to the existence of an organized opposition to the payment of tithes.

The Amendment negatived. House resumed.