HC Deb 22 August 1833 vol 20 cc831-4

On the Motion of Mr. Blamire, the House went into Committee, on this Bill.

Mr. Blamire moved a clause to be substituted for that which now stood as the first clause in the Bill. The object of the Amendment was to introduce some words that were better calculated to effect the object of the Bill than those which now formed the clause.

Mr. Aglionby

gave his support to the object of the Bill; but, at the same time, he thought that actions to which there was no valid defence should not be stayed till nest year. He, therefore, proposed to insert a clause, the object of which was, that no action, the subject of this Bill, should be stayed, except upon an application to the Court in which it was pending, founded upon an affidavit, declaring that the defence was bonâ fide. In confirmation of the statements made as to the effect of these actions upon the parishioners, of the clergy bringing them, he took that opportunity to state, that he knew an instance in which a great many actions for tithes had been brought in one parish, and the consequence was, that the parish Church had been almost deserted. On one occasion there was but one person present besides the Minister and his clerk.

Mr. Harvey

thought, that this was one of the most injudicious Bills that had ever been submitted to Parliament, for it was a direct interference with the rights of private property. Every person who fancied that he had a clain for tithes should have the opportunity of instituting proceedings in a Court of Law to recover it. It was to be regretted that so many claims had been brought forward at once; but that arose from necessity, and not one of these claims but was based upon the law. It would be impossible for any plaintiff, whether he proceeded in a Court of Law or in a Court of Equity, to establish a title to tithes which for years had been dormant, to succeed when it became an issue before a Jury. The weight of prejudice he would have to contend with would be such as to make it necessary for him to show not merely the legality, but the righteousness of the demand, before he could proceed. If they were to legislate upon it, why not legislate in the most efficient manner? Why not at once suspend all the proceedings that had taken place within a given period to the next Session of Parliament? He took it for granted the present Bill was the herald of good things to come, and that it was intended these evils should be put a stop to by some wholesome legislation, which would at once extinguish all the causes. If that were so, why not at once suspend all proceedings under writs which had been issued, he would say within the last two months? He really thought the present measure, when it came to be reflected upon, was fraught with danger and difficulty. In his opinion, tithes were a species of property which certainly did not belong to the landlord. If they did not belong to the Church, they did not belong to the landlord; but they were a property; and he was extremely sorry to see landholders endeavouring to excite feelings which must fritter away the value of tithes, that they might have their land tithe free. He did not think this Bill necessary; for all those who knew what the business of the Courts was, must know, that it was quite impossible that any of those suits could be determined before the great measure had been adopted that was to regulate tithes for the future. If, however, the Bill was to be agreed to, he thought, that all tithe suits instituted within two months should be tied up till after the beginning of the ensuing Session of Parliament.

The Solicitor General

congratulated the Church and the clergy on their new defender, and hoped, that the recently formed friendship of the hon. members for Oxford University, and Colchester, in defence of the Church, might prove lasting. He agreed, that tithes were a property, but then they were to be dealt with as other property. Now land could not be recovered after twenty years' quiet possession, and it was only proposed that a custom of paying tithes in a particular manner should not be disturbed after it had existed for sixty years. That was the object of Lord Tenterden's Act; but the clause which had given rise to those actions was one that, in fact, defeated the whole object of that Act. Under that clause, the law being the same as before that Act passed, and by the law, though a modus might be shown to have existed for hundreds of years, if it could not he proved to have had its origin before the time of legal memory, it was bad. Within the last two years, a modus of that sort had been set aside. He did not call that justice, but gross injustice.

Mr. Cobbett

said, he had a precedent for the Bill, and one, too, to which the clergy were parties. In 1796 or 1797, upwards of 1,000 actions were commenced in the King's Bench against clergymen for penalties for non-residence; and what did the clergy do? Come forward and pay the penalties, and so stop the suit? No, they came before the then Parliament, and got the actions stayed for a year. Next year the same, and the next year again. Then, in 1802, Parliament did what he hoped that House would do next Session—quash the actions entirely; and as it then relieved the clergy from the penalties, would now relieve the people from the payment of tithes. It was idle to talk of its being an invasion of the principles of Jaw, for the case was one of strong necessity.

Mr. William Brougham

agreed with hon. Members, that the Bill was an infraction of the law; but was it not also a case of the strongest necessity? The number of actions had been multiplied so enormously, that great injustice must be the consequence if the Bill were not passed. He was informed that, in the Exchequer alone, there had been upwards of 4,000 writs issued within the last two years, making, with those in other Courts, 8,000 in all—if ever there was a case of stern necessity that was it. He would ask, what right the Rector of Kendal had to 10,000l. a-year of tithes? He must be beat in nine out of every ten of the actions. It was clear, that they had only been commenced in order to save the right which otherwise Lord Tenterden's Act would have taken away. He should be sorry to interfere between justice and those who would have brought their actions, if Lord Tenterden's Act had never passed, but as the suits in question had been instituted, as he believed, merely for the purpose of defeating the operation of that Act, the easiest, fairest, and most convenient method of proceeding would be, to suspend them till next Session, or some more distant period.

Clause agreed to. The rest of the clauses were agreed to. The House resumed.