HC Deb 27 February 1833 vol 15 cc1191-9

Captain Wemyss presented a petition from Leslie, praying for the total Abolition of the Church Establishment in Ireland, and that its revenues might be applied towards the removal of the present burthen of taxation.

Mr. Cobbett

was much pleased to hear this petition, and he would have been more pleased still, to have found, that it included the lay impropriations. It was the lay impropriations that wanted abolishing.

Mr. Gillon

presented five petitions, praying for the Abolition of Church Property in Ireland, and for its application to some purposes calculated to relieve the burthens of that country, from the Political Union of Leslie, and from the Protestant Dissenters of Kelso. The hon. Member was convinced that tranquillity would never exist in either Ireland or England as long as those who professed a religion contrary to the Established Church of Ireland were compelled to contribute so largely to the maintenance of doctrines with which they could not agree. He trusted that the time was not far distant when the Irish Church would be done away with, and that unhappy country placed in a state of tranquillity.

An Hon. Member

begged to enter his protest against the doctrine of spoliation used by the petition. He considered the Church of Ireland had as much right to its property as any gentleman in England had to his estate. There was no individual who paid tithes that was entitled to retain them, so that if they were taken away from the Church to-morrow they would go to the State. He trusted, however, that both the Churches of England and Ireland were placed on too firm a basis to be shaken by every breath that blew. The generality of Dissenters agreed with the doctrines of the Church of England; they only differed from it in form and ceremony. Why, then, did they petition for its spoliation?

Mr. O'Dwyer

observed, that the hon. Member's arguments with respect to tithes would have suited very well some thirty or forty years since, when they might have made some impression. He had observed that the tithes had been transferred, by Act of parliament, from the Catholics to the Protestants. If an Act of Parliament had transferred it in one ease from Catholic to Protestant, an Act of Parliament could again transfer it from the present possessors to other purposes. The hon. Member must also recollect, that the former possessors of the tithes had certain trusts to perform which were not attached to the present possessors of tithes. They sustained the fabric of the churches, and supported the poor. He would strongly recommend the hon. Member, before he talked of spoliation, to advocate the appropriation of Church property to its original purpose. The great extent of Church property in Ireland had never been intended to provide the people only with religious instruction, but to provide for them all that was necessary to it. He would advise his Majesty's Ministers, now that they had taken up the Church Reform, to introduce something like a satisfactory plan. He believed that the Irish people would never be satisfied with it. Ministers might do away with eight or ten bishoprics, but that would be of little use. Sir William Petty had said, many years ago, when the Catholics were not so numerous as at the present time, and the Protestants were more numerous, that two Bishops were enough for Ireland. For his own part, he (Mr. O'Dwyer) thought that even two were too many. He therefore considered that his Majesty's Ministers might very easily do away with six or eight more Bishops.

Mr. Barron

said, that he would plead guilty to the charge that his ancestors had enjoyed a great portion of Church property, but they supported the poor. He charged the Protestant Clergy with a gross violation of their oaths; for they had left the people uneducated, and had thereby driven them to poverty, misery, and crime. The Protestant Establishment of Ireland was triple, nay quintuple, what was necessary for the Protestant population. Church property was originally intended for the instruction of the people, and he asked how had the holders of it fulfilled their trust? With respect to the measure of Church Reform in Ireland, it did Ministers great credit, for he believed they had gone as far as they could. But if they wished for the prosperity of that country, they must adopt some speedy means of appropriating the tithes in Ireland to the support of the poor, and the education of the people. However strong or effcacious the measures of Ministers might be—although they might put down violence and tumult for the moment, it would only be for the moment, unless they educated the people, and supported the poor. He was sorry that the noble Lord (Althorp) was not in his place; but, perhaps, some Gentleman on the Treasury Bench could answer a question, upon which several of his constituents wished to have information. They wished to ascertain what the intentions of Government were with regard to what was termed ministers' Money? He did not know how that was regulated in England, but in Ireland the money was collected according to some ancient valuations, and in some parts, particularly in the city of Waterford, which he represented, many houses were valued at 10l. and under, which let at 30l. or 40l,. a-year. The collection of that money often led to acts of violence, and he thought it was a subject which well deserved the consideraation of Ministers.

An Hon. Member

, in reference to the assertion that the tithes in Ireland had been transferred by Act of Parliament from the Catholics to the Protestants, said, he believed there was no such Act in existence; if there were, he should be glad to know where to find it. Certain he was, that in this country there was not such an Act. There were Acts passed in the reign of Henry 8th, not for the transfer of tithes, but for their levy: for it appeared that at that time there was as great difficulty in collecting tithes in this country as there was at this moment in collecting them in Ireland.

Mr. Hill

believed there was no such Act; indeed none was necessary, for the Catholic clergy of that day became convinced of their Catholic errors, the very moment that the head of the Church—the King—became convinced. The Catholic clergy then suddenly became Protestants, and those who had enjoyed the tithes as Catholics received them as Protestants. With respect to the abolition of tithes, many persons, himself among the rest, believed that they came mainly from the pockets of the landlord, and that a total abolition of them would not be in favour of the poorer classes, but would go to the landlord, who would then have the whole value of the land, instead of six or seven-tenths, as at present. That might be a fallacy—it might be erroneous, but many eminent men had strong opinions upon it. With respect to remunerating the clergy, he should vote for paying them In a different manner from that now adopted. The use of the Church was to teach the great doctrines of religion; and it was most unfortunate that there was a mode of payment which put the clergyman and his parishioners in opposition to each other, and rendered the latter much less inclined than they should be to seek the excellent advice of the former.

An Hon. Member

said, that the tenant, and not the landowner, would profit by the abolition of tithes. Tithes were made up partly of the produce of the land, and partly of labour. In fact, labour entered chiefly into the composition of tithes; and hence it must be manifest, that it was the tenant, and not the landowner, who sustained the burthen of this impost.

Mr. Cobbett

Some hon. Gentlemen to the right and left of me have been making some assertions which I must beg leave to examine the foundations of. It has been stated, that two-thirds of the property of the whole kingdom rests upon the same foundation as tithes and other Church property. It must, however, be granted, that the possession of much of the land in the kingdom arises from grants from the Crown, or from forfeitures. Now, the rights of the parties holding Church property are very different. That property was conferred upon them by an Act of Henry 8th, but it was conferred upon them subject to certain conditions, namely, that the new proprietors should for ever discharge the duties consequent upon holding that property, and satisfy the demands to which it had before been subject. Now I say, that no part of the tithes were granted away without being subject to these conditions, as was also all conventual and monastic property. The case, therefore, is not quite so clear as the hon. Member near me supposes. If he imagines that the Act of Henry was intended to be forgotten, let him look to the different Acts of Edward and Elizabeth, and he will perceive the same spirit running through them. I do not wish to anticipate the regular and full discussion we must have upon this subject, but another great error prevails upon it, with respect to which I wish to disabuse the House. Gentlemen, speak as if it were the parsons in Ireland who own all the tithes, and are suffering by the difficulties of its collection, and exclaim: "Lord, what a shame it is to oppress the poor parsons!" But the parsons hold a very small share of the great mass of property which the people pay under the name of tithe. It is the Aristocracy which holds that property. The House, perhaps, are not aware that there are dioceses in Ireland in which there are not more than seven Protestant Clergymen, and there is, I believe, one diocese where the Bishop has only to look after five parsons. The House is not, perhaps, aware, that lay tithes form three-fourths of the tithes of Ireland, and that the Bill which the noble Lord (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) is to move to-night for the establishment of Courts-martial in Ireland in the first instance, and afterwards in England, is to compel the people to pay their money to the Aristocracy. We heard with great feeling the stage-coach story about the sufferings of the Protestant Clergy of Ireland, and I believe that many of the people of England, thinking that there is a parson in every parish, as there is in this country, began to think it too hard that the poor parsons should have the trouble of doing their duty without getting anything for it. Now, the fact is, that the tithes, as I said before, are for the most part, in the hands of laymen. There does not appear to be more than 500 Protestant clergymen receiving tithes in Ireland, whilst the number of Catholic priests performing their duty to the people is no less than 2,500. I speak from Parliamentary Returns, which all the House will have an opportunity of examining. I say again, that Lords, Baronets, and Squires enjoy the tithes, and, generally speaking, not the clergy; although, of course there area few of them who do. It is not correct, therefore, to say that it is the hierarchy of Ireland which is the main cause of the oppression of that country, but the squirearchy.

Lord Sandon

rose to set the House right with respect to an assertion which many hon. Members seemed to think uncontroverted—he meant the supposed fourfold appropriation of tithes. Now it appeared by the evidence taken before the tithe Committee of this hon. House last year, that no such general ecclesiastical division of the tithes existed, and that there was only one parish which could be adduced as a proof of the existence of the practice at all. He perfectly agreed with the hon. member for Oldham, in saying, that the squirearchy, and not the hierarchy, enjoyed the greater part of the tithes in Ireland. In order, perhaps, to give Gentlemen some clue to the cause of the wretchedness of that country more correctly than that of the oppression of the Protestant clergy, he would mention a fact which was proved before a Committee, of which he was a member. A gentleman who was examined told them, that on his coming of age he had found his estate overbur-thened with population, and he determined to clear it. This was a very simple phrase, but what did the gentleman mean by it? Why, he turned forth 1,100 people, without a home, into the highways, to starve and shift for themselves. He stated, that he gave them nothing, and when asked what had become of them, he said that some had gone into the town, others had gone on to neighbouring estates, and others again had become thieves and vagabonds. No landlord in England could act in this way for shame, if nothing else would prevent him. He did not mean to say, that the gentlemen of Ireland were deficient in good feeling; but the occurrence of such a circumstance as this proved how great a difference there was in the standard of feeling in the two countries, and might, without making false charges against the clergy, account for the misery which existed in Ireland. He did not think, even if the tithe system in Ireland were arranged or abolished, that the people would be appeased; for the House had the authority of the hon. member for Dublin, that nothing short of a Repeal of the Union would satisfy Ireland. But without this authority, it would seem, that it was not the removal of grievance after grievance that would effect the desired good. No, it was to the want of a respectable middle class in Ireland—aclass which might be considered the great cementing link between the higher and the lower classes, that might be attributed the distresses of that unhappy country.

Mr. Sheil

could not agree with some of the statements, as to matters of fact, made by the noble Lord, who did not appear to see the evidence of the learned divine (Dr. Doyle) in the same light as he (Mr. Sheil). It was not of a parish that the evidence had been given, but of an archdiocese. The hon. member for Oldham was not correct in his calculation of the respective amount of tithes possessed in Ireland by the laity and the clergy. The former were possessed of only 100,000l. per annum, whilst the latter laid claim to upwards of 600,000l. And hence there was less difficulty in settling the question; because the greater amount by far being in the possession of the Church, it might be more readily appropriated by Government. With respect to the intended measures of Ministers regarding the tithe system, of which little or nothing was yet known, he could only declare his opinion, that there would be found extreme difficulty in legislating on the subject, unless a speedy arrangement were come to on the principle to be adopted. He would admit that Ministers had done much, but they must not stop there—they must not be content with reducing ten Bishops. He would ask them why let the other ten remain? He would ask, why stop with a reduction of a Bishop's income from 14,000l. to 10,000l.? Why should a Bishop be in receipt of a larger income than a Chief. Justice, or of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland? Why should two Archbishops be suffered to remain? And why, he would ask, stop with a consideration of the hierarchy? Until a radical and effectual Reform of the whole system was effected, the agitation of Ireland would continue. He would again ask, were we to have a continuation of the tithe system as at present, or were any of its proceeds to be applied to the exigencies of the State, and the maintenance of the poor?

Lord John Russell

was not prepared to enter into the various questions which had been brought under discussion during the presentation of a petition. Questions of the most difficult nature both with regard to practical policy, and abstract reasoning, concerning the nature of Church property, and concerning the present position of Ireland, and questions respecting her landed interests and her social condition, had been discussed by Gentlemen, without confining themselves very much to any particular line of argument, so that any one point might be clearly debated, and the House be enabled to come to a definite opinion upon it. His wish was rather to put it to the House, whether it would conduce to the attainment of the great object of presenting petitions—(namely, ascertaining the wishes of the people), that these speculative inquiries should, on such occasions, be entered upon, or discussed? The example just set by the hon. member for Oldham, and the hon. and learned member for Tipperary (Mr. Sheil), afforded little hope that such discussion would lead to any practical or beneficial result. He deprecated the discussion raised by the hon. member for Oldham, and the hon. and learned member for Tipperary, on the question. He should briefly notice a few inconsistencies in the statements of both. If he understood the hon. member for Oldham right, he had said, that three-fourths of the tithes of Ireland were in the hands of the laity; but what said the hon. member for Tipperary? He said, that 600,000l. a year were in the hands of the clergy, and 100,000l. in those of lay impropriators—something nearer to the truth than the other. He (Lord John Russell) had not, at that moment, the exact amount of the tithes paid in Ireland on this head, or the apportionment of its several parts between the clergy and the lay impropriators; but it was not necessary for his purpose, when hon. Members so differed among themselves. He would, however, before proceeding further, suggest to the hon. member for Oldham, that if he was not rightly informed on these subjects, he should not, in common justice to himself and others, come down to that House to make statements which could have no other effect than prejudicing the calm and impartial discussion of the question when it came under consideration. With respect to the question of the hon. member for Tipperary, he could only state, that the Government had a measure to submit to the consideration of the House; but on the nature of that proposition he hoped both hon. Members would excuse his silence. With respect to the question put by the hon. Member as to ministers' money, it was certainly a subject of importance in relation to Church Reform; and when that subject was before the House, his friend, the right hon. Secretary for Ireland, would, no doubt, enter fully into the consideration of the matter. He (Lord John Russell) thanked the hon. member for Waterford for the credit he had, in his observation, given the Government for their good intentions towards Ireland; and he congratulated him upon the conciliatory spirit he had evinced, in giving up a portion of his own opinion to those which the Government conceived most practical. It was in this spirit, he hoped, that the question would be entertained by the House in that point of view, and not as an abstract notion, from which nothing ought to make them swerve.

Petition to lie on the Table.