HC Deb 17 August 1833 vol 20 cc736-50

Mr. Littleton moved the Order of the Day for the House to resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Mr. Hume

, in objecting to the Bill, begged to state, that he was as anxious as any one to see the disputes between the tithe-owners of Ireland and the people of that country put an end to. He thought, that all his predictions in 1822 upon tithes in Ireland, which had been fully realized, gave him some claim to the attention of Ministers. In 1822, he pointed out the evils of the system and the dissatisfaction of the people of Ireland, and he then foretold, that unless proper measures were taken, tithes would be lost for the purposes of the State. He then said, that was the time when the rights to such property should be considered, and he then recommended timely concession, to prevent the total refusal of the payment of tithes. He then recommended an equitable assessment on the land; but the time was now gone by to put in practice such a recommendation, since Ireland was now in a situation to preclude the possibility of adopting any such measure; and she was in that situation solely because Government and that House had not attended to his timely notice. The Government had been badly advised last year, when it passed a measure for the collection of tithes in Ireland, giving the Government extraordinary powers to collect them, and putting the Crown in the place of the tithe-owner. He opposed that measure, and he told the then Secretary for Ireland, that he was doing that which would completely endanger the collection of tithes. The House consented to the measure by a large majority. What was the result? Why that the Government, with all the extraordinary powers that had been given them—with the aid of the constabulary and military force—were obliged to admit that they had completely failed. He agreed to the grant allowed then—he agreed to it on the score of the responsibility of Ministers. But where was their responsibility now? How much did they collect by that measure of the arrears of tithes? They collected, with much pains and large expense, the sum of 12,000l. out of the 104,000l. which had been advanced to them. They must then avow, that, with all the power they had at their disposal, they could not enforce the payment of tithes, and that their plan had entirely failed. They were even obliged to issue proclamations, with the Royal Arms at the top of them, to stay all further proceedings for the collection of tithes; so that all those who had legal claims for arrears of tithes were prevented from prosecuting them by the proclamations of Government. He owned that it was proper to stop civil war in Ireland, and so far he did not object to those proclamations; but who had placed Government in such a situation? Those persons who had advised the plan. Now, the question was, whether tithes could be collected or whether they were lost. For his own part, he had not the slightest hesitation in saying that they were lost, since he confessed that neither power nor means remained to enforce the collection of them. If any one measure could be devised by Government to put an end at once and for ever to disputes between the people and the Church, he would have no objection to it; but he could not support the present plan, for he was sure that it must fail, and he did not think that there was a single Irish Member in the House who would say, that it had the slightest chance of succeeding. He would ask, what security was now given them in going into Committee? It appeared to him, that no ad- ditional powers were given by the present Bill to enforce the payment of tithes. If such was the fact, he would call upon the House to pause before it consented to the measure, until Ministers showed how they would be able to secure peace in Ireland, and how the repayment of the money now asked for was to be obtained. By the 19th clause of the Bill the money advanced was to be paid in five instalments? But by whom was it to be paid? By the lay impropriators and by the clergy. Why, they were told that the clergy were very poor, that they were in great distress, and that it was for their support they were called upon to give this money. Was there anything in the present Bill that would compel the tithe-payers to do of their own accord that which all the military force, and all the other power the Government had at its command, had failed to make them do? He asked how the clergy were to find the money to pay in five years the advance that was about to be obtained for them? He allowed that the clergy were honest and willing to refund what might be advanced to them; but how could they, since their power of doing so depended on the payment of tithes? The present Bill made it the mutual interest of landlords and tenants not to pay tithes; and when it was their mutual interest to refuse payment, could it be expected to make both pay what the tenants had singly and successfully resisted? For these reasons, he thought they should not be justified in voting this money. The House of Commons was bound to know how the money was to be repaid. If the instalments were not paid twenty days after they became due, they would become debts of record. That was no additional security; they were before debts of record, and the Bill would make a double opposition to them—opposition both on the part of the landlord and of the tenant. As he intended that the people of England should have a lien on and a security to be repaid at some future period from the temporalities of the Church of Ireland, he should move, that it be an instruction to the Committee "to provide for the repayment of such parts of the money to be advanced under the authority of this Bill as shall not be repaid by the persons entitled to receive the tithes in the manner provided for by this Bill, and that any balance of the money unpaid and due to the public shall become chargeable on the funds arising from the temporalities of the Church of Ireland."

Mr. Thomas Wallace

seconded the Motion. The only thing that could prevent the Bill from being a great mischief, was the Amendment proposed by the hon. member for Middlesex. He had looked attentively at the Bill, and had seen nothing in it that offered the least security for the payment of the money advanced. He looked upon the advance of such a sum in the light of a public fraud. There was no one who had looked to the resistance to tithes for the last two years in Ireland, but must see, that it would be made to this measure. His opinion therefore was, that this sum of 1,000,000l. never could be recovered. That was one reason why he objected to the Bill. He had another objection—namely, that the Bill opened a new crusade against the tithe-payers of Ireland, which crusade was to last for five years. Who, he would ask, could wish to see continued for the space of five years that system which, in the course of seven months, had driven the people of Ireland to a state of anarchy?

Lord Althorp

said, that he did not intend to withdraw from the declaration he had made on a former occasion, that if there was not a reasonable prospect of repayment, the House ought not to pass the Bill; but he nevertheless trusted he should be able to show that there was a reasonable prospect of repayment. Hon. Gentlemen asked, what was the use of making the clergy of Ireland debtors of the Government, when they would not have the means of repayment? What he had to show was, that the parties to whom this advance was to be made would have the means of repayment. No doubt, if the clergy had to apply to the same parties for payment as they had last year, the same results might be expected; but, under the permanent Tithe Composition Act, which passed last Session, the clergyman would in future have to apply, not to the occupying tenantry, but to the leaseholders and owners of the land—per-sons in a situation of life well able to pay, and from whom payment could be enforced. It must be remembered that if those parties did not pay the clergyman, a receiver of their rents could be appointed till the amount legally due was paid. The hon. Gentleman opposite assumed, that the clergy of Ireland would, in future, have no income whatever. No doubt, if that were the case, they could pay neither this nor any other debt: every Gentleman, even those who thought the Irish Church ought to be entirely abolished, agreed that the present incumbents were entitled to a provision for life. Now, whether that provision was made by the continuance of tithes for their lives, by a land-tax, or by any other means, it being universally agreed that they must be paid somehow or other out of the soil of Ireland, it was clear they would have an income from which to pay this debt. As to the instruction moved by the hon. Member, it amounted to saying, that the repayment must be by the Church Commissioners; for if the clergy were told, "You have to pay this money, but if you should not do so, there are other means of paying it provided," it was not very likely that the clergy would pay the money out of their own pockets. He thought the proposed plan would be a very dangerous one, and therefore he hoped the House would not accede to it.

Mr. Shaw

said, that after the statement the noble Lord (Althorp) had just made to the House, that he would not press the measure then before them unless he was satisfied that the million of money they were about to advance would be repaid by the means provided in the Bill, he should consider himself as acting an uncandid and unworthy part were he to sanction such an expectation. He was placed in a situation of much delicacy and embarrassment—but he was persuaded that the plain and straight course was at all times the safest as well as the best, and at every hazard he would take it. The noble Lord was greatly deceived in supposing, that in respect of the arrears any material difference was to be made in the persons liable to their payment; for although it was true that after November the gradual effect of the Act of last year would be to transfer the liability from the occupying tenant to the landlord, and of that in principle, he (Mr. Shaw) approved; still that would not for a considerable time come into operation, as existing contracts were not to be interfered with, and they extended over a large proportion of cases. The system was to be held under lease or written agreement, and, even with regard to tenancies from year to year, though the landlord was in the first instance to pay, he was afterwards to recover from the tenant; so that the persons to pay the lithe would, with very few exceptions remain the same. He did not suppose that the noble Lord would wilfully impose upon the House, but he certainly was at a loss to conceive how the noble Lord could have so blind-folded his judgment, and shut out the voice of reason and common-sense from his mind, as to entertain a hope that the money could be repaid by making the clergy the collectors. What ground had the noble Lord for making the grant? It was, that the Government, with all the powers incident to the recovery of Crown debts, and giving all their aid to the clergy, had failed in enforcing their just rights, and had given a complete triumph to the violators of the law over its authority—and now the noble Lord expected the House to credit the monstrous proposition, that the same clergy, unaided and single-handed would be able to regain the ground which the Government admitted they were driven from. He knew that the Government might have succeeded, had it used common prudence and firmness—first, in leaving the party who vexatiously resisted a just demand liable to the costs of its recovery—for the consequence of finding that no costs should be paid, had been just, what those who remonstrated against the provisions had anticipated. Nothing was paid without a suit; the apprehension of costs being removed, the person who owed the debt could be no worse by resisting it, however vexatiously, to the end, than if he paid it on the first demand. But the great defect was that which characterized every act of the present Ministers—a rapid transition from a reckless laxity to an excessive severity incurring all the mischief of an extraordinary stretch of power, and then, as if frightened by their own act, flying from it before any benefit accrued. The clergy were left without that protection which all loyal subjects had a right to expect from a Government. In the same proportion that the clergy were oppressed by defeat, were their opponents and the opponents of the law flushed and elevated with victory. The exorbitant deduction (not much less than fifty per cent) was as unjustly taken from the clergy as the reward of their forbearance, as it, was given to the refractory tithe-payer as a premium on his illegal and often outrageous resistance to a just demand. The right hon. Secretary seemed to refuse his assent to the amount of deduction from the clergy being near fifty per cent. First, then take the twenty-five per cent on 1831 and 1832, and the fifteen per cent on 1833, and observe that was not taken to cover the cost or loss in collecting;, but as a simple loss to the clergyman, and a bonus in favour of the defaulter. The clergy were still to be at the expense of the collection, which would be moderately estimated at ten per cent. They were also to forfeit all arrears on 1830 and the previous years, which were very considerable, particularly those of 1830, in the end of which year the systematic opposition to tithes commenced—and in the dioceses of Ferns and Ossory the whole of that year was very generally due; then, by the 8th clause, all arrears were to be lost on lands where the occupancy had changed (which, by the way, would open a door to great fraud). There was likewise the cost of preparing memorials and schedules, and of proving them before the Assistant Barrister; besides the loss of interest of money which had been kept back from the clergyman, and which he had had to borrow. If all these were put together, the clergyman who availed himself of the Bill would lose not much less than fifty per cent on half the sum justly and fairly owing to him. The dishonest tithe-payer, too, was to receive the greater part of it, while none was to be reimbursed to the man who honestly discharged his debt and obeyed the law; and to all this was to be superadded the insulting cruelty that, in default of repayment by the clergyman, in twenty-one days after each instalment became due, the amount was to become a judgment debt against him with all costs and charges. It was under these circumstances that the noble Lord seriously assured the House, that he was satisfied the clergy could recover and repay the million of money which was to be advanced under the Bill. All he (Mr. Shaw) could say was, that he was satisfied, that poor, distressed, and destitute, as the clergy of Ireland were at that moment, there was not one of them would accept a farthing upon the terms of being parties to imposing such a fraud upon the House. He would repudiate, on their part, any undertaking, express or implied, that the mode provided by the Bill would be efficacious for the repayment of the money. But this led him to a consideration much more important than any which merely had reference to the temporary question of the present arrears—here the designing and dangerous nature of the measure seemed to develope itself; he meant the ingenious and dexterous manner in which the future prospects of the clergy and the Church were mixed up with the arrears then due—so that it followed, by necessary inference, if he was right in concluding that the arrears could not be collected, that neither could the accruing tithe after November next—they would be involved in the same fate, and exposed to common danger. For five years to come these instalments would be placed as a sort of dead weight about the neck of the new system to come into operation on the 1st of November, under the Act of last year, introduced by the right hon. Secretary for the Colonies (Mr. Stanley) so as to render its failure certain. He was sorry that right hon. Gentleman was not in his place to vindicate his own measure, and explain how the conditions of the present Act could be made consistent with the success of his Bill. For his own part he was convinced, that the present Bill would never have been drawn had that right hon. Gentleman remained Secretary for Ireland. He meant no personal disrespect to the present Secretary, nor did he attribute to him personally the authorship of the measure; he presumed it was the joint production of the cabinet, while the attention of the right hon. Secretary for the Colonies was not particularly directed to the department of Irish affairs. But although he differed much from that right hon. Gentleman in respect of the Irish Church Reform Bill, of which he was the avowed author, and he (Mr. Shaw) thought it highly injurious in many respects to the interest of the Church—yet, as compared with the present Bill, he would say, that even its injuries seemed to him to have been inflicted by the hand of a friend; while every line of the present Bill appeared to have been indicted in the gall of the deepest hostility to the permanent welfare and stability of the Established Church. If he did not charge the framers of the Bill with an actual conspiracy for the overthrow of the Church, he must say, that, had such existed, no better means could have been devised to render it successful. He might be asked how he would remedy the defect in the Bill of which he so loudly complained. His answer was, very simply, instead of making the clergy the collectors of the arrears, and mixing these arrears with the future incomes, to the imminent danger, indeed certain loss, of both, let the Government collect the arrears, by means of the excise—let them charge costs, and proceed temperately and firmly in the Superior Courts against those who were the leaders, and not, in the first instance, against those who were only the dupes of the combination against tithes. The clergy would not murmur against any sum being deducted which might be necessary to cover the costs, or repay the expenses of the collection, not even if it were twenty-five per cent. His objection was not one of pounds, shillings, and pence, but of principle—for if the Government enforced the arrears, they would, at the same time, vindicate the authority of the law, and insure the future rights of the clergy, as well as of every other class of the community; whereas, by throwing the collection on the clergy, and confounding the arrears with their accruing tithes, both would be lost—a permanent and irrecoverable injury done to the Church, and an invitation held out (which no doubt would be quickly accepted) to those who had successfully resisted the payment of tithes, to get rid, by the same means, of rent, taxes, and every other legal demand. The only manner in which he could account for the sudden and precipitate abandonment by the Government of the proceedings they had adopted last spring for the recovery of tithes, was by supposing that after that weakness of the Government in admitting that Amendment to the Coercion Bill which declared that it was not for the mere purpose of collecting tithes, the noble Lord (Lord Althorp) was scared from persevering in a course which he was convinced would have proved effectual, by an apprehension that such a result would have been attributed to the Coercion Bill. Nothing could be more absurd. The noble Lord might just as reasonably expect that if you admitted light and air to a building that had been previously dark and unwholesome, all the inmates would not avail themselves of the change, as that where the authority of the law had been suspended and was restored, the salutary effect would not extend itself to every class of the community. Where the interruption of the ordinary relations of society had been greatest, there, of course, the return to order and regularity would be the more remarkable; and as the pressure of turbulence was removed, the rights of the clergy, as well as all other rights, would naturally rise to their own level. He felt that he was perfectly consistent in voting for the second reading of the Bill, as its principle professed to be to give relief to the suffering clergy, while he could never assent to a provision for the repayment of the money, which was inconsistent with the character of the clergy, and the true interests of the Church, and the permanent peace of the country. He was aware, that the Ministers would not alter the Bill as he proposed in the Committee, and, therefore, he could not give his assent to it. He incurred a most painful responsibility in the course he took. Nobody knew better than he did the state of destitution to which the clergy were reduced; he need not be told, for the heart-rending evidence was within his own knowledge, that they had to deny to their families what would be esteemed by others in the same rank the very necessaries of life. They had to witness the ill health of those who stood to them in the nearest and tenderest relations, induced by privations and sufferings which they had not the means to alleviate—their children bereft of education, at the very time they were forced to drop the insurances on their own lives, and every prudential arrangement for the future provision of their families—thus the same hard and cruel necessity, blighting the two-fold prospect of their independence arising from the exertions of the children and the providence of the parent—all this too, without the imputation of blame on their part. Such a stale of things no doubt put Christian patience to the severest test—but still he was bold to say from his acquaintance with the Irish clergy and their families, that if the heads of these afflicted families were to carry to them the means of their relief, and to tell them that they had been purchased with the price of their personal honour and integrity, they would be unacceptable to the circle which had been brought up under their example and imbibed their principles—and to themselves all their former adversity would have been sweet compared to the bitterness with which they would eat the fruits of such a sacrifice. He trusted that he should not be suspected of vain boasting when he said, that he would to God he could bear in his own person the pain, the disappointment, and despair which rejecting that measure must occasion to the long-suffering clergy of Ireland—but at the same time he believed in his soul that he was incompetent and unworthy to express the determination which would inspire them as a body to reject any offer the acceptance of which involved a dereliction of their duty. They had been robbed of their property, calumniated in their characters, reduced, under the permission, if not the sanction of the Government, to a state bordering on starvation—that Government induced them to stop all proceedings for the recovery of the means of their subsistence under a promise that they should be provided for, and bow did the Government now perform that promise? It offered them the half of what was due—and that half upon conditions incompatible with the honour of the clergy and the interests of the Church. The temptation which the Government thus ungenerously held out, all the tenderest ties of nature prompted a compliance with—but he should be grievously mistaken if the Government did not find, that amidst all the trials and temptations to which the clergy were exposed, their uprightness was still unbent by their misfortunes—that the independence of their spirit had not been extinguished by injustice, and was not to be corrupted by the bribe of a paltry pecuniary consideration. He spurned the proposition. Those who candidly avowed their object was to subvert the Established Church said, they were willing to contribute a million for that purpose. He, on behalf of the Church and the clergy, answered—let the money of her enemies perish with them—the Irish clergy would never accept it as the price of their treachery to that United Church of which they had been heretofore the brightest and most distinguished ornaments. He meant no disparagement to the English clergy—no one more highly valued them—their generous minds would feel no jealousy at the declaration—as amongst the most attached families and friends, when any one member was in sickness or in sorrow every such feeling vanished—and all the others united to exalt the virtues, and bring out, even by contrast with their own, the most amiable traits of character in those so circumstanced. Those friends, too, more immediately connected with the English branch of the establishment who were around him, would pardon him when they recollected that even "purest gold, when tortured in the furnace, came out more bright, and brought forth all its weight." His position was most trying—his feelings were struggling to restrain his judgment—he had no opportunity of communicating with those immediately concerned—he trusted and he believed they would agree with him; but at all events he was convinced that the bounden duty of an independent representative was not so much to consult the feelings, the wishes, or even the present interests of his constituents, as to have regard to their permanent welfare, their honour, and their truest happiness; and he had no choice left but, after the most painful and anxious consideration, to follow the best dictates of his own judgment. He could not support the Bill—and if it was pressed in its present form, his wish would be to strip it of its delusion, to unmask its hypocrisy, and to lay bare the deep design to destroy the Established Church, which lurked under the specious covering of a Bill to give relief to her ministers. I can never (concluded the hon. Member) give my assent to a measure which in my conscience I believe would compromise the personal honour of the Irish clergy—betray the best interests of the Established Church—re-ward a systematic and unlawful resistance to the rights of one class of the community, thereby encouraging the same to those of every other class—and moreover sanction a proceeding which will constitute a striking feature of the weak, vacillating, timid, time-serving place-preserving policy of the present Government—a policy which, if persevered in, must soon cover Ireland with renewed anarchy and confusion.

Lord John Russell

said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Shaw) seemed to think that the proposition was the act of Government, and that what had taken place in Ireland respecting the payment of tithes was also the act of the present Government. Now, such was not the case, and he (Lord John Russell) wished to take that opportunity to state the facts. No Bill of the present Government could have had the tendency stated by the hon. and learned Gentleman. For the proposition made to Government was, for the Government themselves to collect the tithes from the year 1829 to 1831; and that the clergy would allow fifteen percent in return for the sums advanced; that proposition was made to the Government by persons sent over by the clergy, at least so it was slated in that House; and so far from meriting the charge of being the means of assisting to add to the distress under which they laboured, the Government felt the deepest commiseration, and proposed the present Bill as tending to afford immediate relief; and when the Bill was introduced, so far from the measure meeting universal disapprobation no one person came forward on their behalf to oppose it. He (Lord John Russell) could assure the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Shaw) that his feelings for the situation in which the clergy of Ireland were placed were no other than those of compassion and commiseration, conceiving, as he did, that political excitement and opposition to the payment of tithes had reduced them to the most painful situation.

Mr. Shaw

denied that the clergy of Ireland were parties to any such proposition as that mentioned by the noble Lord, nor did they sanction any persons on their behalf to make such a proposition for them.

Lord John Russell

said, that the circumstance to which he alluded, took place in March last, when the Coercion Bill was under discussion.

Mr. Aglionby

said, he had given the subject under discussion, as well as all others relating to Ireland, his closest attention. He had been constant in his attendance in that House, and he was bound to say, he never heard any declaration made, that it was the intention of the Government to alter the Bill. He would implore the Government to consider well the Bill they were about to pass, and not permit to be recorded in the Statute Book of that House an Act forming a most dangerous precedent for future governments that might feel a desire to attack the properties and rights of individuals. What private individual, he would ask, would lend 100l. to a man on such security as that sought to be given by this Bill. For himself he would say his money should not leave his hands on such security, for the first security offered is the clergyman, and, according to the hon. and learned Member's statement, they were not able to support their families; and the clergyman unable to pay, would naturally refer to the person who really owed the money, it. being his share of tithe; but this person would throw the claim off his shoulders, and so refer to the landlord, who had no right whatever to pay, and who himself might not have received his rent. He did not condemn the Government for planning the present measure—it was forced on them by necessity. But he did condemn them for perpetuating and supporting the Church of Ireland, after they had acknowledged it to be an evil.

Debate adjourned.