HC Deb 14 August 1833 vol 20 cc608-10
Mr. Blamire

wished to call the attention of the hon. and learned Gentleman to statements he had received respecting prosecutions for tithes, instituted in consequence of a clause in Lord Tenterden's Act. He wished to ask whether it was the intention of the Government to introduce any measure for the purpose of staying proceedings for tithes (which he understood to be very numerous) till the Act for the Commutation of Tithes should pass into a law; or whether they intended to adopt some measure to mitigate the difficulties under which the persons now sued for Tithes were placed, by allowing the parties to select one or two cases on which the whole question should be decided, instead of putting them to the expense of contesting two or three hundred?

The Solicitor General

heard this matter with the greatest possible pain. The Act called Lord Tenterden's Act, relating to the limitations of actions, was introduced on the recommendation of the Law Commissioners, and was founded upon the part of the Report which he had himself framed. The object of that Act was to remove from our law the maxim nullum tempus occurrit ecclesice—a maxim applicable to our Church alone—there being no other Church in Europe, Protestant or Catholic, in which such a maxim existed. It was recommended by the Commissioners, that after sixty years the mode of payment of tithes which had prevailed within that time should be finally established. But when the Bill came from the House of Lords, a clause had been introduced, allowing three years, during which suits might be commenced for payment of tithes, on the presumption that the tithes bad been formerly levied, in a manner different from that practised within sixty years. He had denounced that clause as subversive of the very object of the Bill; but during his absence from town upon professional business, a clause allowing one year, which was to expire on 15th August, 1833, was introduced, and he understood that within the last ten days, thousands of suits had been commenced. It seemed to him a sort of infatuation on the part of the clergy. But what was now to be done he did not know. The Act had given the right of bringing actions up to the 15th of August, 1833, and he knew no way of preventing the exercise of that right. But the evil was of a tremendous kind, and it was as mischievous to the Church itself as to the people, and every true friend of the Church must wish to see a remedy applied to it. He could not introduce an Act for that purpose now; but if his advice were to be listened to, he should say, that an Act of Commutation now to be passed, should proceed upon the principle of uti possidetis, and that where there had been an established mode of payment for sixty years, and three incumbrances, that that enjoyment should not be disturbed.

Mr. Cobbett

said, there was a precedent, on the principle of which he thought the House might now act. That precedent occurred in 1800. There were then 602 actions brought against the clergy for non-residence. At first the Legislature did not know what to do; but afterwards, though it was a direct violation of the law, they passed an Act to stay the proceedings. As that had been done in favour of the clergy, there could be no objection now to do it in favour of the people, especially when they would be at the same time doing a real service to the Church.

Mr. Warburton

said, that when the clause was passed to which the Solicitor General had alluded, they had entered their protest against this year of grace for the owners of tithes. The consequence of such a clause was obvious. It was an encouragement to the parties to bring actions. He believed, that 5,000 or 6,000 actions were now entered for trial in tithe cases. The whole country was in a flame. Under such circumstances, it was not possible that any Bill for the commutation of tithes could be entered upon with that good temper which all must feel to be most desirable, but which could not exist while discord was running through the land. He should therefore say, that whenever a Bill for commutation was introduced, it should proceed, as the hon. and learned Solicitor General had said, upon the uti possidetis, principle, and that the period of the annual value of the tithes must be antedated one year, so that all they might now recover should go for nothing.