HC Deb 01 March 1832 vol 10 cc987-92
Sir Richard Musgrave

presented Petitions for the Abolition of Tithes, from the parishes of Ballylaleen, Carricbeg, Kinsalebeg, and Butlerstown, in the county of Waterford; and from the parish of Gowran, in the county of Kilkenny. He said, in some of these parishes there are not any churches, nor a single Protestant parishioner, and yet tithes and church-rates are rigorously exacted. The parishioners of Ballyleen state, that a portion of their tithes is paid to a lady, who is quite incapable of affording them any spiritual comfort or consolation. Every friend of the Protestant religion ought to wish for a total abolition of the tithe system in Ireland. In that country the clergy of the Established Church have, for a long period, possessed great wealth and great political power. They could easily influence the Legislature to pass any Tithe Act or Acts for levying church-rates, for which they wished. Even when they assented to the Tithe Composition Act, they took care to introduce a provision, that the clergyman should take precedence of the landlord. The result, however, of this great wealth, and of this political power, has not been favourable to the interests of religion, or to the increase of the number of Protestants. Their number has been greatly diminished, as compared with the Catholics, and, in many parishes in the south, Protestants have altogether disappeared. The discontent which prevails, is not confined to the Catholics, for the exaction of tithes has tended to alienate Protestants from the Church. The most respectable Protestants perceive that the temporalities of the Establishment are highly injurious to the real interests of religion, nor can they shut their eyes to the glaring injustice of taxing a Catholic population, for the benefit of sinecure Protestant clergymen. Can any person defend the levying of church-rates in parishes where there are few Protestants, and where, at the same time, tithes are rigorously exacted? In the parish of Lismore, where I reside, tithes to the amount of 800l. a-year are levied, under the denomination of economy tithes, for the repair and building of churches,; and yet church-rates are annually exacted to the amount of 80l. or 90l. These rates are laid on 2,000 rate-payers, almost all of whom are Catholics, and many of whom are, from then-poverty, summoned before the Magistrates, who have then a most distressing duty to perform. As to the remedy for the many evils of this system, I beg leave to read an extract from the letter of a beneficed clergyman of Ireland, lately addressed to me. I beg the attention of hon. Members to this document, as it is of considerable importance, and highly creditable to the writer:— It appears to me, that the only equitable mode of arranging the future remuneration of the clergy is, by a commutation of tithe into land. I do not mean that the clergy should enjoy their present (in many instances) overgrown incomes, under a tithe commutation. To make a commutation of tithe practicable, I conceive it must be, in some degree, a popular measure. To make it popular, being equitable at the same time (I do not mean that efforts should be made to win the approbation of the revolutionist and common disturber of the public peace, for they, even by concession and conciliation, are not to be won), but I assert, that the measure shall meet with the general approval of the reflecting and good among all parties of the State. This can only be obtained (as also I firmly believe the best interests of the Established Church are to be advanced) by reducing the incomes of the clergy to moderate dimensions. Let the Committee recommend, that tithe property be divided into three equal parts—one for the benefit of the poor, one for the building and repair of churches, paying officers' salary, &c, and one for the respectable remuneration of the Established clergy. Commutation under those circumstances (and under those only) I consider practicable: without this division, I fear even landlords may dread to purchase the tithes of their estates, or, having purchased, may find it a difficult, if not a dangerous task, to collect such to remunerate themselves in their purchase money. I think, in the present state of public opinion (including that adverse to the Established Church, and that regarding its welfare), that it would be idle to attempt to legislate with satisfaction or success upon the method of paying the clergy, without including a wholesome reduction of the Church's temporalities. It is evident, that a legal provision must (and that at no distant day) be made for that ever-multiplying body, the Irish poor; and I feel that that object can, with justice to the general interests of the country, be best effected, by appropriating to it a portion of the superabundant wealth of the Church. Such are the sentiments of a beneficed clergyman, and I hope they will attract the attention of the Legislature. I shall not now seek to bring on a discussion on the specific measures necessary for effecting a change of system. The Report and evidence of the tithe Committee, will soon be brought before this House, and I shall take that opportunity of restating here, the same objections which I urged against that Report, as a member of the Committee. The Report appears to me not to be borne out by the evidence, and the measure therein recommended, of following the precedent of 1799. and of giving the Lord Lieutenant power to imprison those who refuse to pay tithes, must lead to the most calamitous consequences.

Mr. Henry Grattan

expressed his surprise that the papers relating to the Report of the Committee, which were laid on the Table ten days ago, had not been printed. In consequence of the delay in printing them, many erroneous impressions had gone abroad.

The Speaker

said, that the cause of the delay was, that though the Report was short, the papers connected with it—the evidence on which it was founded—was very voluminous. He had made inquiries into the subject, and finding that the printing of the evidence would take some time, he had given orders that the Report should be printed at once, without the evidence, and when the evidence was printed, the Report should be reprinted with it. Within twenty-four or, at most, forty-eight hours, the Report would be in the hands of the Members.

Mr. Blackney

had been requested to support the petition from Gowran, which he did with great pleasure. It bore the signature of 300 persons, who were exceedingly aggrieved by the oppressive system of tithes. In this neighbourhood, the hurlers had commenced their operations, and the rector of Gowran was one of those to whom they applied for a reduction of the tax, complaining, that they were in the utmost misery—that tithes and taxes robbed them of the means of support—that their families were without clothing, and themselves almost without food. In the adjacent parishes the population were in the same abject circumstances. He held affidavits in his hand which asserted, that a party had been summoned for an arrear of sixpence, and that the summons cost 2s.; another was summoned for twopence, and for that miserable sum was charged with the usual expenses, besides loss of time, to which he was compelled to submit. The gentlemen who were to receive these pittances held good livings, and large incomes. It was, therefore, monstrous to suppose, that the House would consent to advance money from the Treasury, to be repaid at some future day by a tax levied on the land of Ireland, to uphold a system which authorized such practices, while the poor, on whom the payment would ultimately fall, were famishing and dying for want of food and raiment. Money might be had from the Treasury, certainly, for such a purpose, but it never could be reimbursed from the acres of Ireland.

Mr. Stanley

said, he did not rise to continue a discussion on the subject of tithes, for nothing could be more inconvenient than a desultory discussion on a subject, which was now undergoing an arduous and strict inquiry before a Committee, still less could he think it right, that hon. Gentlemen should enter into statements which went to affect the reputation and character of particular clergymen, who had no means of protecting themselves from such attacks. On this part of the subject he would assure such hon. Members, that if they had any facts which came within their own knowledge, or know of any case of oppression, the Committee up-stairs would pay every attention to their evidence. Having made these few remarks, he begged to state, that he had been requested by the Chairman of the Committee, to call the attention of the House to a subject of much importance, as far as it regarded the proceedings of the Committee. For the last three or four days it was well known, that a gentleman had been under examination by that Committee, whose opinions and views, not less from his great ability than from his high station in the Catholic Church (he meant Dr. Doyle), had excited great interest. The Committee-room had, consequently, been crowded, not merely by Members of the House, who had a right to be present, but a considerable number of strangers were also admitted. The Committee did not wish their proceedings to he kept private, nor that whatever passed might not be a matter of public knowledge; at the same time, the House would agree with him, that it was often necessary, when the Committee printed the evidence, to accompany it with notes; and, therefore, that it was highly objectionable to allow that evidence to go before the public before the whole of the proceedings were in the possession of that House. There were also many cases in which the Committee might be required to exercise a discretion as to the parts of evidence it was necessary to suppress, and, therefore, it was extremely improper for individuals to take advantage of the permission granted to them of being present, to make partial and garbled Reports of the proceedings, through the usual channels of information. He held in his hand The Dublin Morning Register, in which there was a lengthened Report of the substance of Dr. Doyle's evidence given on Thursday last, and, in some of the Morning Papers he had seen abstracts of that evidence. He only now wished to call the attention of the House to the inconveniences attending such a course, if advantage were taken of putting before the public a partial or garbled statement, or, indeed, any statement at all, before the Report should be laid on the Table. He stated this, in order that those Gentlemen who attended the Committee-room, if they were Members of the House, might abstain from saying any thing, or laying before the public any information which they might receive in attending the Committee; or if, as was more probable, those paragraphs proceeded from strangers not being Members, that if such a course were continued, the Committee would feel it necessary to exercise the privilege they possessed of excluding all strangers who were not Members of the House. He thought it right to lay these facts before the House, in order that the practice should be put a stop to.

Mr. Ruthven

thought it unfair that any part of the evidence should be suppressed, or that a selection should be made. In his opinion, no Committee ought to be allowed to exercise such a discretion as the right hon. Gentleman had advocated.

The Speaker

observed, that the hon. Member who had spoken last, had entirely misunderstood the observations of the right honourable Gentleman (Mr. Stanley). He thought the course that had been pursued, was extremely improper, and was, clearly, a breach of one of the privileges of the House, which it was essential to uphold. If this course was pursued, the consequence would be, to compel the House to withdraw that indulgence which had hitherto been given.

Mr. Hume

was afraid, that what the right hon. Gentleman had stated, as a great grievance was not in the power of the House to remedy. The Report to which the right hon. Gentleman had alluded, if it was the same which he (Mr. Hume) had seen, did not purport to be the evidence that had been given before the Committee, but only the substance of it. The only remedy was in the discretion of the Members how far they would consider themselves warranted in giving publicity to what had been stated before the Committee. Perhaps the Speaker would have the kindness to point out some course by which the grievance might be remedied.

Lord Milton

thought the suggestion of the hon. Member who spoke last would be attended, if adopted, with great inconvenience.

Mr. Ruthven

, in explanation, observed, that he understood the right hon. Gentleman opposite to have stated, that it was competent to the Committee to suppress part of the evidence; if such was the case, it was a course he highly deprecated.

Mr. Stanley

observed, that if such was the impression of the hon. Member, he had completely mistaken his meaning; what he had said was, that it was competent for the Committee, where evidence was tendered, to strike out such parts as they did not think evidence. There were also a number of cases, in which the names of individuals were mentioned, and circumstances annexed to those names, that it would not be right to give to the world.

Petitions to be printed.

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