HC Deb 24 August 1833 vol 20 cc868-71

Mr. Blamire moved that Tithes (Stay of Suits Bill) be read a third time.

Sir Robert Inglis

said, he should now, at this last stage of the Bill, declare his opposition to it. He was opposed to it upon principle, looking on it, as he did, to be an interference with the rights of a large class of men, who, in his opinion, had been most unfairly treated. There was scarcely any attack which had not been made on them; yet, in no one instance, had they exceeded the limit of the law. The rights they were now attempting to enforce, more for their successors than for themselves, were secured to them by law, and by the law they had to act. The Bill of last year was a compact between the rights of the tithe-owners, lay and clerical (for he must again repeat, that this was not a question with the Church alone), and the public. The tithe-owners were warned by that Bill, that if they did not take care of their interests within a given time, they would for ever he foreclosed. Upon that warning, they had acted, and now they had done so, the hon. member for East Cumberland asked the Legislature to interfere to violate the compact that had been made, and take away the lights which the Bill of last year had, not given, but not taken away, till the end of a limited period. The general principles of the law were in favour of the opposition he now offered this Bill. The Legislature had already interposed, as he thought improperly, to put down tithes in Ireland, and he looked on this Bill as an attempt to assist in producing the same result in this country. He was therefore opposed to it, and should take the sense of the House upon the Bill. He moved that it be read a third time this day three months.

The Solicitor General

said, that after bestowing the greatest deliberation on this subject he had come to the determination to give the Bill his support, from a conviction that such was his duty. It had been said, that this Bill was contrary to the general principles of legislation; he admitted it; but then his answer was, that there might be extraordinary emergencies in which it would be the duty of Parliament to depart from common rules. It was said, that the Legislature had saved to the tithe-owners this one year, within which they might bring their suits, or they would be foreclosed for ever. He was sure, that, if these consequences could have been foreseen. Parliament would not have allowed this year of grace, or rather of vexation. From the information communicated to him by his hon. friend, the member for East Cumberland, he was authorized in saying, that 9,000 suits had been instituted for tithes in cases where there had been a modus. What was the consequence of that, in the way of expense alone? Taking these suits to cost 2,00l. each, there would be an expenditure approaching to 2,000,000l. But, independently of the expense, what Vexation was thus inflicted upon the occupier of land who had bought the property, or taken it on lease, subject to a modus? These suits were injurious to the families of the clergy themselves, in the money that must be taken from their pockets in the way of costs. Besides this, they gave rise among the people to a feeling, that injustice was attempted to be committed towards them; and the consequence was, a loss of that spiritual influence which the clergy ought always to possess. It might be true, that these proceedings were according to law; but it did not, therefore, necessarily follow that they were right and just. Empson and Dudley had the law on their side when they tried to force obsolete claims; but they were hanged; and, as far as he had ever heard, they obtained no sympathy from their fellow-men when they suffered. He agreed with those who said, that tithes were a property, not an impost, and that when the tithe-owner bought the right to tithes, he obtained as good a title to property as the owner of the soil; but still that property ought to be placed under the same regulations as other property. The law before Lord Tenterden's Act was bad and unjust; for the modus, though it might have existed for centuries, unless it could be proved to have existed before the time of legal memory—in other words, before the return of Richard 1st from the Holy Land—might be set aside. There were two exceptions to this—first, where the land had belonged to a religious house; and, secondly, where there had been a composition real. But, with regard to these exceptions, the Courts had departed from the usual principles of law, for they would not allow the exception to be established without the production of deeds; and as no such deeds could be produced since the 13th of Elizabeth, the composition real was generally set aside. It was the great number of these suits that rendered the thing mischievous, and called for the interposition of the Legislature. One or two suits, however unjust, would not have warranted the interference of Parliament. It was hard, that those who desired to correct the abuses of the Church should be pointed out as its enemies. The late Lord Tenterden was not an enemy of the Church—he was one of its most sincere defenders; and yet he had consented to the Bill of last year, limiting the right to a particular mode of payment to sixty years—had introduced it into the House of Lords—and it was against his opinion, that the clause which had given rise to these actions had been inserted. The only object in view now was to suspend these actions till Parliament in its wisdom should see what could be done in this matter. In his opinion, those were the worst enemies of the Church who refused to concede any confection of its abuses. He was not among that number, and he should support the Bill.

Mr. Tooke

thought there were objections to the wording of the Act. In his opinion it would go further than was intended by the hon. Member.

Mr. Sinclair

thought this a bill for the protection of the Church, and not for its injury. He should support the Bill.

Mr. Lynch

was opposed to the principle of interference which this Bill recognized, except in cases of extreme necessity. He could not, however, shut his eyes to the extreme inconvenience of the present proceedings, and should, therefore, give his consent to the Bill They did not destroy, but only suspended the rights of the tithe-owners, and he did not think that they would suffer much hardship from the Bill.

Mr. Aglionby

hoped, that the House would adopt this measure, though it was not, perhaps, framed in the best possible manner. He admitted the objections to this mode of legislation, and said, that nothing could justify this Bill but the interests of the community at large. He believed, that the Bill was necessary, and that there could be no gentler mode of carrying its object into effect than to suspend the actions for tithes.

Mr. Cobbett

said, he had several petitions in favour of the measure. The feeling excited against the clergy by these actions was considerable. The Bill would be rather a benefit than an injury to them; and as for the principle of the legislation, that was justified by the precedent of 1800, in which the Legislature had interfered to save them from the consequences of numerous actions for non-residence.

Amendment negatived. Bill read a third time and passed.

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