HC Deb 24 January 1832 vol 9 cc781-93
Mr. Hume,

in presenting a Petition from the Roman Catholic Inhabitants of the Parish of St. Agnes, in the Diocess of Cork, against Tithes, took occasion to observe, that phrases were sometimes used in the heat of debate which were not intended. He admitted, that he himself often, in the course of debate, used words which, on more cool reflection, he should wish not to have used. He supposed that it was in this way the word "disgraceful" had been applied to his statement as to the Tithe Question in Ireland, by an hon. Member opposite, and had afterwards been repeated by the right hon. Baronet. (Sir R. Peel). He did not think it disgraceful to state important facts which came to his knowledge on this subject, and he thought the disgrace would only lie upon the suppression of such facts. In the petition which he now presented, it appeared that in this parish there were only four Protestant families, consisting altogether of fourteen persons, but there were 2,800 Roman Catholics, from whom the tithe was exacted, though there was no Church, and no clerical duty of any kind belonging to the Established Church performed. The petition further stated, that the tithes, before the Composition Act, amounted to 6l0l.; but that they had since that time increased one-seventh in amount, the whole of which addition had fallen on the petitioners. Was it not natural that the parties in this case should object to the payment of tithes? Could any man reasonably expect that any body of men, no matter of what creed, would be content with such a system? He would beg the attention of the House to the concluding paragraph of the petition, in which the petitioners stated, that 'considering that Church rates and tithes are exacted in a situation where there is no Church, and no duty performed, we have come to this conclusion, that there is no moral obligation on us to pay those taxes.' When a feeling of this kind was avowed, and was every day spreading in that country, he would ask, whether it did not impose a strong obligation on the Government to take the whole subject of tithes and Church property into its earliest and most serious consideration? For his own part, he would say, that if he were in the situation of the petitioners, he would not pay such a tax. He would do what his ancestors did in Scotland—he would resist the attempt to exact such a tax, for which no sort of duty was performed. He thought, that all fair means of redress should be first resorted to, and, in his opinion, the Irish people had resorted to such means, but without effect. Could it, then, be a matter of surprise that they should now resist the payment altogether? Did the House think, that this country would consent to the payment of an immense military establishment in Ireland, for the purpose of enforcing the collection of tithes, and protecting the property of the Irish Church? We had now an army of 20,000 men in Ireland, though in the year 1792, the whole of our military force in that country did not exceed 8,000 men; but at one time, and not very long ago, our force there amounted to 26,000 or 27,000 men. Would the people of England consent to the maintenance of such an establishment, the chief object of which was, the protection of Church property and tithes? He was sure they would not, and therefore he earnestly hoped that Ministers would lose no time in submitting the whole question to the consideration of Parliament.

The Petition read.

Sir Robert Peel

said, that anything which had fallen from the hon. member for Middlesex would not divert him from the real question before the House. He was not conscious of having used the word "disgraceful" in reference to the hon. Member's argument; but if such a word had been applied, it was to the principle involved, and indeed avowed, in the hon. Member's speech—that the spoliation of Church property was a measure which the Government and the legislature ought to adopt—than which no principle could be more unjust. He would admit, that when the Government determined on the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the system of tithes in Ireland, it must have had in view the question, whether some other mode of paying the clergy might not be devised; but it never was admitted for an instant, that the inquiry had any reference to the spoliation of the property of the Church. He had been all the morning engaged in that Committee, in pursuing the inquiry relating to the collection of tithes, but he would not go into the matter at that moment. The subject to which the hon. member for Middlesex had referred, when he made the statement complained of, was the question mooted by the hon. and learned member for Kerry, that a noble Lord should be added to the Tithe Committee. The hon. member for Middlesex said, the whole Committee was unnecessary, as the Tithe Question in Ireland was already settled. How the hon. Member could make such a statement, when he must have known, what indeed was perfectly notorious, that tithe was paid without objection in many parts of Ireland, he could not tell. He would not say whether such a statement was disgraceful or not, but certainly no man could hear with approbation such a declaration as that of the hon. member for Middlesex—that if he were an Irish Roman Catholic he would not pay tithes. Was it right to encourage the people to resist the payment of tithes, to which the owners had as much legal and moral right as the hon. Member had to receive rent from any tenant on his estate? He did not say, that the present system might not admit of some modification, but he would contend, that the property of the Church was held by as good and as sacred a title as that of any gentleman to his private estate; and if once that property was invaded, there would be no security for property of any kind in Ireland.

Mr. O'Connell

did not rise to enter into any discussion of the Tithe Question at present; but after what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet, he could not avoid saying a few words. No one, he was sure, would be disgraceful enough to wish to take away the life-interest of any of the present holders of tithes or Church property, but no one who saw the operation of the system in Ireland, and witnessed its effects, could, in his opinion, come to any other conclusion than that after the life-interest of the present possessors had ceased, a change ought to take place. The subject was now taken up so warmly and by so many, that he doubted whether, unless the Question was considered by Government with a view to some serious change, that sort of property would be worth anything whatever in Ireland. The appointment of the Tithe Committee was a measure which had by no means given satisfaction in Ireland; for the Committee was appointed on a wrong principle. The studious exclusion of Roman Catholics from it seemed to imply that Roman Catholics had nothing to do with tithes, but to pay them; as if they were to be allowed no deliberation whatever on the subject. He would not say, that the people of Ireland had settled the Tithe Question, but there could be no doubt that they had made up their minds upon it; and, though the refusal to pay tithes was not now general, let hon. Members recollect the great spread which that resistance had made within the last year, and they would see, that it might soon become so. The hon. member for Middlesex had alluded to the resistance made by the people of Scotland to the attempt to impose a Church upon them against their will; that attempt was certainly a most complete failure, for the Scotchmen drew their broadswords and took to their hills. The Irish were adopting a different course; the Catholics were opposed to the present system, but they were not alone in their opposition; the Protestant Dissenters and the Protestants of the Established Church were now following the example of the Catholics, and were prepared in many places to refuse the payment of this tax; and if the matter were left to the people, the question would soon be settled. Any provision that was necessary to minister to the spiritual wants of the Protestants of Ireland would never be grudged or withheld by the Catholics. But it was a matter worthy of observation, that those individuals who now usually did the duty were by far the worst paid. There were instances in which gentlemen received 2,000l. or 3,000l. a-year, while the active duty was performed by a curate who received the splendid salary of 69l. 7s. 10½d. There was, he repeated, no party in Ireland who felt any disposition to resist the fair claims of the working clergy; but a general disposition did prevail, and would prevail, to oppose ecclesiastical sinecures.

Mr. Stanley

said, he did not mean to enter on this occasion into a discussion of those very enlarged questions which were connected with the present state of feeling in Ireland on the subject of tithes, nor would he have addressed the House at all, but for the remark which had been made by the hon. member for Kerry, with respect to the appointment of the Committee on Irish tithes. It would have been well if the hon. Member had attended when the appointment of that Committee took place, because he could then have discussed the proposition of his Majesty's Ministers: he might then have made such remarks as occurred to him, either with reference to the principle on which the Committee was proposed, or with respect to the individuals whose names were selected. The hon. member for Kerry had complained, that the Committee was formed on a wrong basis. But let the facts be fairly considered, and it would be found, that the formation of the Committee proceeded on the most unobjectionable principle. In forming that Committee, care was taken that no Members should be sent up-stairs who had expressed, either on one side or on the other, a decided determination on this Question. Ministers did not wish, on the one hand, that those Gentlemen should be placed on the Committee who were totally adverse to any consideration of this subject—who were anxious that the matter should remain just as it stood at present—and they were equally unwilling that others should be placed on it whose minds were closed against all argument, and who would be satisfied with nothing less than the total abolition of tithes. Ministers endeavoured to constitute the Committee, of men who well knew the opinions that were entertained on both sides—of men whose feelings and principles were moderate, and who would carefully and dispassionately hear and decide upon the evidence that was submitted to them. It was not on the ground of any jealousy or suspicion, that Roman Catholics were not proposed as members of this Committee. They thought that it was expedient to abstain from placing Roman Catholics on the Committee, but their determination did not arise from any doubt that Roman Catholics, if placed on the Committee, would perform their duty honestly and conscientiously. If they could have entertained the thought that, placed in such circumstances, Roman Catholics would be likely to swerve from the honest discharge of the duty which was imposed on them, neither he, nor a considerable number of those who now composed the Government, would, for many years, have voted for the Catholic claims, and for the admission of Roman Catholics to take their scats as Members of the Legislature. The object of Ministers in the formation of that Committee was, to convince both sides that fair and impartial justice would be extended to them; and therefore they had not placed on the Committee any persons who were interested or biassed one way or the other. They wished to give satisfaction to the different parties; and they felt, that complaints might be raised if a question of this kind were referred to Roman Catholics. It was a subject which bore immediate reference to the Protestant Established Church, and therefore Ministers felt it to be more delicate and more prudent towards the Roman Catholics themselves, that they should not appear on the Committee. Ministers thought that it was better, when a subject was delegated to the consideration of a committee, whose decision might lead to extensive alterations in matters appertaining to the Protestant Church—they deemed it better, under circumstances of that description, that such alterations should not appear to be forced on the Protestant Church by those who did not belong to it, but that they were recommended by the members of the Protestant Church. If, however, the hon. member for Kerry would look to the list of names on the Committee, he would see, that though no Roman Catholics were included in it, still individuals connected with Ireland were to be found there, who were able to speak the wishes, and advocate the sentiments of large bodies of Roman Catholic constituents. He had thus thought it necessary to state at once, that the omission complained of by the hon. member for Kerry did not arise from accident, but that the Government had adopted this course because they conceived that it would be more generally satisfactory. He did not know whether the hon. member for Kerry meant to bring forward his motion on this subject, but if he did, he should certainly oppose the placing on the Committee Lord Killeen, a noble friend of his. He was extremely glad, that the hon. member for Kerry had selected his noble friend on this occasion, because opposition to him would not leave the least ground for suspicion as to the purity of the cause on which it proceeded; since he believed that no man could be found more completly unexceptionable than his noble friend.

Mr. Ruthven

expressed his conviction that the Irish Roman Catholics would object to be represented in the Committee by Protestants, because the omission of members of that religion seemed to imply that they were considered as the Representatives of a particular portion of the people instead of being general Representatives. The Committee, on this account, was not calculated to give satisfaction to the people of Ireland. There were Gentlemen on that Committee who though they would act with reference to other questions in the most impartial manner, yet were likely, on this particular subject, to give way to a certain bias. There was, throughout the people of Ireland, a feeling against the payment of tithes, but in the course of the discussions that had taken place on this subject, the people of that country had been represented to be in a state of more mischievous agitation and tumult than was really the case. He had himself recently come from a part of that country where there was no resistance to the payment of tithes; a circumstance mainly owing to the discreet conduct of the Clergy of that district, of whom it might be generally observed, that they were more kind and considerate in their demands than the lay proprietors of tithes. There was a strong impression, however, even among them that some alteration, or settlement of the system, would be effected by Parliament. Their objection did not go to the right of the present incumbents, but they viewed with jealousy the claims that might be made by their successors. They could not recognize any right in the latter, and they thought that the Church property belonged to the State, and ought hereafter to be appropriated to public purposes. Much had been said about combination and intimidation. He would not suffer his opinions to be influenced by either. He would proceed in his own plain view of the case, and what he would say was this—"Place the law, without delay, in such a state as will remove all cause of combination, and satisfy the great body of the people: do this, and we shall hear no more of intimidation or of combination."

Mr. Wyse

said, that the resistance to the payment of tithes was rapidly extending. Last year it was only manifested in a small portion of the Queen's County, and in a confined parish of the county of Kilkenny. But now the principle appeared to be pervading the country in every quarter from north to south. It should be remarked that the opposition was shown- —not against individuals, but against the principle. Where the clergyman had excited feelings of kindness, the people had not been backward in acknowledging it. He knew one instance where a clergyman, who for several years had been actively benevolent, had recently been refused the payment of tithes. Two Roman Catholic clergymen, however, addressed their congregations, and having shown to them the benefit which they had derived from the conduct of the clergyman, demanded of them whether they would not spontaneously grant to him that which by law he had a right to claim. Those people did subscribe the money required, they gave it to the clergyman as a donation, but they would not give it as tithe. The Catholics in general were disposed to acquiesce in the title of the present clergy to the tithes, but they considered Church property, after their life interest was expired, as applicable to the purposes of the State, and subject to the disposal of Government. With respect to the appointment of the Committee, he would only say, that if his name had been mentioned as a member of it, he would have refused to act—not because, as a Roman Catholic, he did not feel that he should deliver his opinions as impartially as any other Gentleman, but lest any feeling of jealousy might be generated by his appointment to the Committee. When, however, he said this, he was nevertheless of opinion, that some Roman Catholics ought to have been placed on the Committee, in order to satisfy the Catholic population of Ireland.

Colonel Perceval rose to contradict the statement of the hon. member for Kerry—namely, that all the Protestants of Ireland were favourable to the present atrocious conspiracy against the payment of tithes.

Mr. O'Connell

I did not say all the Protestants of Ireland, and I did not say atrocious.

Colonel Perceval

said, an atrocious conspiracy did exist, and it was fomented by those desperate agitators who were the curse of Ireland. He was sorry to use such strong language, but these were his feelings, and when they were roused he must give them vent. The Protestants of Ireland, almost to a man, were disgusted with that atrocious conspiracy, which was encouraged by meetings held in Dublin, under the very nose of the Government, from whom the Protestants of Ireland had expected protection. If it were not for that conspiracy, the Roman Catholics would be very willing to pay the tithes. The fact was, that under the system which prevailed in Ireland, if the Catholics refused to act as they were commanded, their houses would be burned, their cattle would be houghed, and their property destroyed.

Mr. Hunt

regretted, that the hon. member for Kerry was not present to advocate the propriety of putting Catholics on the Committee appointed to inquire into the tithe system, when that Committee was nominated. It was, in his opinion, an unjust preference to exclude them, and he was sure that not placing Roman Catholics in the Committee would cause great dissatisfaction in Ireland. If such persons were members of the Committee, they would be able to bring forward such evidence as they thought proper, and sift that which was brought forward. He hoped that some Catholic Members might yet be placed on the Committee, as that would give satisfaction to the people of Ireland.

Mr. Sheil

did not think, that the gallant Colonel could have visited many parts of Ireland when he asserted that the Protestants of that country were to a man disgusted with what he called a combination against the payment of tithes. Surely he would not say that the Presbyterians of Ulster were strongly in favour of the tithe system. The fact was, that in every part of the country the impression against that system was hourly increasing. The hon. member for Downpatrick had asserted, that there were no combinations against the payment of tithes in that part of Ireland with which he was acquainted; but that through the whole south of the country there existed a great abhorrence to that odious tax, was a fact that could not be controverted. In the county of Wicklow the Protestant farmers were as much opposed to the payment of them us the Catholics, and he believed evidence had been laid before the Committee to prove that fact. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Stanley) had stated, that Government had felt a solicitude to appoint individuals on the Committee who were not actuated by strong party feelings, and also that they had, out of delicacy to the Catholics themselves, excluded individuals of that religion from the Committee. Now he thought it would have been as well if they had allowed to Roman Catholic Members the option of refusing to serve on the Committee, instead of thus sparing the nice sensibility of their feelings. The name of Lord Killeen had been mentioned; but he believed that noble Lord participated in the general surprise of his friends, when he found that no Roman Catholics were appointed on the Committee. The right hon. Gentleman had thrown a new light on the subject when he affirmed that none but unbiassed and impartial Members were selected for the Committee. Yet he must observe, that there were acting on that Committee three Members for Universities, and a right hon. Gentleman formerly Chief Secretary for Ireland. For the future, he presumed, under the dictation of the right hon. Secretary, these hon. Members must be considered as men of large and liberal views, and incapable of being biassed by those predilections which were, no doubt erroneously, attributed to them. To this Committee there were two questions referred; the one the collecting of tithes, which was the Protestant department, and the other the payment of them, which was the Roman Catholic department It had formerly been complained that justice was not fairly administered in Ireland, because its administration entirely rested with one party. Might not the same complaint be made here, when on a question of fact, some of those who had most interest in its decision were not allowed to assist in the investigation? That House, however, might be considered the tribunal of the last resort. The Report of the Committee would have to receive the sanction of the House, and on that the Roman Catholic Members might vote; but they must not make suggestions in the Committee. The Roman Catholics, then, would have a power to vote, but not the power to get the information which might enable them to vote correctly. It might be said that justice would be done in the Committee, and he had no doubt that justice would be administered. But the question was, would the people of Ireland be satisfied with this course of proceeding? Like Caesar's wife, justice ought not only to be pure but unsuspected. It would perhaps be alleged that the Irish were a suspicious people—he admitted that they were; but what had made them so? Long continued wrong, and grinding oppression. To dissipate any such suspicious feeling, some Roman Catholics ought to have been mixed up with this Committee. He should like to know how the addition of two or three Roman Catholics could affect the decision of that Committee; surely it would not be said that they would have the power to overturn the legal orthodoxy of the Protestants of England, which was fully represented. in the Committee. He sincerely hoped that Government would not interfere in opposing the intended motion of the hon. member for Kerry, to allow Lord Killeen, and one or two other Catholics, to be placed as members on the Committee. If those hon. Gentlemen were added, a report proceeding from them would be received as emanating from a pure and uncorrupted source; but if the Committee were to consist entirely of Protestants, although some of the members were fully entitled to his entire confidence, yet it would not be considered as calculated to act fairly towards the Catholics of Ireland.

Sir Robert Inglis

begged to inform the hon. and learned Gentleman, that he was not a member of the Committee.

Mr. Ruthven

explained, that the Protestants in his part of the country generally were averse from the payment of tithes, but they did not like to take part in the plan for resisting them.

Lord Althorp

wished to say a few words with respect to the constitution of the Committee. It was very well known that prejudices existed on both sides of this question, and therefore Ministers had selected none of those who had expressed strong feelings on the one side or on the other. They had selected a Committee, the members of which they believed were well acquainted with the subject, and were most anxious to do justice impartially. If, in selecting the Committee, they had not placed on it men who were well acquainted with the present state and situation of Ireland, and who had deeply considered this question, then the appointment of the Committee would have been open to all those objections that had been made to it. But amongst the members of that Committee there were no less than seven Gentlemen who represented very large bodies of Catholic constituents. Having selected those Members, it did appear to him, that it was impossible for any one justly to say, that the Catholic interest would not be carefully and impartially attended to in the consideration of this great question. On the other hand it should be recollected, that on investigating this subject they had not merely to look to the feelings of the people of Ireland, but to the feelings of the people of England also. It was necessary to keep in view the sentiments of the Protestant population of both parts of the empire. This being the state of the case, he would ask, when the question under consideration of the Committee was one particularly ap- plying to the interests of the Protestant Church, whether great jealousy would not be excited against the settlement of that question, if Roman Catholics had been allowed to take a part in its decision? After the most serious consideration which the Government could apply to the subject, they thought that the mode best calculated for a satisfactory adjustment of the question was, to place on the Committee the names of men to whom the Roman Catholic interests could be safely confided; but not to place on it Roman Catholics, against whom Protestants might feel a degree of, perhaps improper, jealousy.

Mr. Cresset Pelham

said, he had waited in the expectation that some other person would have placed the question before the House in one particular point of view, but as no one else had done it he conceived it to be his duty. He had always understood it as a declared and received principle of the bill which admitted Roman Catholics to sit in that House, that they should never interfere with questions relating to the Protestant Church. In the most friendly and charitable spirit he cautioned Gentlemen against violating that principle of the compact if they wished it to be held sacred.

Mr. Walker

said, he could take upon himself to declare, that some Protestants were as averse to the payment of tithes as Catholics. Indeed, he was acquainted with one parish where the High Churchmen and Orangemen endeavoured to persuade the Catholics to join them in opposing the tithe composition, but the latter refused.

Mr. Hume,

in moving that the petition be printed, took the opportunity to deny that he had ever sanctioned any plan which had for its object the spoliation or robbery of the Church. Some years ago he had laid resolutions on the Table of that House with respect to Church property, one of which directly went to preserve to individuals the right which they might at present possess to any such property.

Sir Robert Peel

assured the hon. Member, that he had no desire to make an unfair attack upon him: he had understood the hon. Member to state, that the resistance now offered to the collection and payment of tithes, justified the Legislature in committing a spoliation on that species of property; under that impression, he had certainly said, that such language was unjust. If the hon. Gentleman had not used the language imputed to him, he had spoken under an erroneous impression.

Mr. O'Connell

congratulated the right hon. Secretary for Ireland on the change that had taken place in his opinions with regard to the nature of Church property, and the power of Parliament to dispose of it. He should postpone his motion for placing the name of his noble friend Lord Killeen on the Tithe Committee until the next day.


said, that his opinions with regard to Church property had undergone no change whatever. He had always held that it would be must unjust for the Legislature to interfere with the property of the Church, with a view to convert it to purposes that were not ecclesiastical; but he would at the same time always assert the power of Parliament to regulate the property which the Church, as a corporation, held in trust, and for the due management of which it was, like every other corporate body, responsible to the Legislature of the country.

Petition to be printed.