HC Deb 07 June 1833 vol 18 cc447-58

Mr. O'Connell moved for a return of the number of writs issued or seated by the Court of King's Bench, the Court of Common Pleas, and the law side of the Exchequer in Ireland, from the last day of April to the 10th of June, 1832, distinguishing in how many of those cases clergymen were plaintiffs; also a similar return for the same period in the year 1833. Having last night promised an hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Lefroy), that he would furnish instances of oppression in the collection of tithes in Ireland, he was now enabled to name the reverend Dr. Sullivan, rector of Kilronan, who, it could be proved, had issued a number of writs; and on the tithes being tendered, the money was refused, and the parties were referred to the attorney. The object of his Motion was to show the extent to which such writs had been issued.

Mr. Lefroy

did not rise to oppose the Motion, but to call the attention of the House to the contrast between the general charge brought yesterday by the learned Gentleman against a large body of the clergy of Ireland, and the proof offered to-day in support of it, which had dwindled to a single instance. The learned Member had not told the House how much tithe these persons owed besides the half year due at May; and if they were to be sued, the whole demand would necessarily be included; if not, we should hear of another sort of oppression, by the multiplication of suits. But what was the oppression, if a clergyman or any other man was obliged to sue for his rights, to refer the party sued to his attorney? He saw no oppression in all this—but if there was, what body of men could be found in which a single instance of oppression might not occur? Would the clergy of England bear to be tried by such a test? As to the precise object of the hon. and learned Gentleman's Motion, he was at a loss to understand it, unless it were to be maintained that a clergyman was not entitled to sue for his right in Ireland like any other man. Did the learned Gentleman mean to say, that tithes were not property—or that the Irish clergy were to be treated as outlaws, and not entitled to sue for their property? Unless this was the doctrine to be maintained, he (Mr. Lefroy) could not see the object in distinguishing between writs issued on behalf of clergymen, and others.

Mr. O'Connell

said, the hon. and learned member for the University appeared quite to misunderstand him. He had mentioned one name because that name had been transmitted to him, and the facts connected with the case were ready to be substantiated. He had received accounts of many other cases of a similar description, in which the names of the parishes, though not of the clergymen, were given. The hon. and learned Member was also in error in supposing him to say, that the clergy should not enforce their rights as other persons did. What was complained of was, that that clergy did not do as others did—namely, demand their tithe-debts before they proceeded at law to recover them. In all the cases to which he had referred there had been no prior demand and the greater part of the writs were issued for tithes due on the 1st of May, to the amount of several hundreds. If such a line of conduct was pursued by a Commander-in-chief, or a Judge, he should stigmatise it as no less unjust and oppressive than when it was pursued by a clergyman.

Mr. Henry Grattan

declared, that if the hon. member for the University of Dublin was not satisfied with the statement that had been made by the hon. and learned member for the city of Dublin, he would pledge himself to produce plenty of evidence of a similar nature. They were cases of every day occurrence. There was the case of a Mr. Armstrong, who selected from a number of cattle that might have been taken, those that were the least capable of being driven, and instead of placing them in a pound in the neighbourhood, had them sent to a distance of nearly five miles. The question was now become a most serious one. On a recent occasion the 29th regiment was called out, and a body of police, to disperse a large number of persons that were assembled, when the soldiers refused to fire, but the police did so, and one man was killed. The state of the country was such that Irish Members could not be silent any longer, and he entreated the noble Lord (Althorp) to bring forward his Motion with respect to Irish tithes without delay. Even if the hon. member for Staffordshire (Mr. Littleton), should not be able to take his seat next week, he hoped no further delay would take place in bringing forward this question, as the peace of Ireland depended upon its speedy and satisfactory settlement.

Mr. O'Connell

bore testimony to the general humanity and good conduct of the military when brought into collision with the people, as distinguished from the conduct of the police. On the occasion already alluded to by the hon. member for Meath (Mr. Grattan) the Commander of the troops directed them not to fire at the people who were near them.

Mr. Finn

was sure, that if the people of Scotland and England were ordered to pay tithes like the Irish, they would not submit to it for one hour. In point of fact the tithe system in Ireland must be extinguished. In the county of Carlow, just now, a clergyman (Mr. Whitby) issued processes for the payment of his tithes, drove off the cattle worth 8l. a-head, and sold them for 4l. each. It would be well for the gentlemen of England and Scotland to understand and be aware that the people of Ireland would not continue to pay that impost for ever—which would not be borne for a day, either in England or Scotland.

Mr. Shaw

was sorry to be obliged to prolong a discussion so very irregularly introduced as the present had been, by the hon. member for Dublin, making a motion without notice, and on a day that orders take precedence of motions, even if notice had been given. However, the occasion had been seized with avidity by the hon. member for Meath (Mr. Henry Grattan) and other Gentlemen, to cast odium and reproach upon the clergy of the Established Church in Ireland; and reluctant as he was to trouble the House by continuing a desultory discussion, he could not suffer the attempt to be made, and remain silent, and hear the charge of tyranny and oppression brought against the Irish clergy without repelling it. At the present moment there was not due to them less than an average of three years' income. He had already moved for a return of the arrears of tithe withheld from them—it was not yet made to the House, but he could state, in three dioceses alone out of two-and-twenty in Ireland, a sum of 170,000l. remained due to the clergy. Here, then, was a number of educated gentlemen, amounting to nearly 2,000—few of them with any private property worth mentioning—themselves and their families to subsist for three years without their just and lawful incomes—exposed to the utmost privations—foregoing every possible expense—forced to drop the insurance on their lives—to remove their children from school—to part with their plate, their books, and every article convertible into money, to give food to their families—exhibiting a forbearance beyond all precedent—a mildness and submission, joined with an independence of spirit which, he ventured to affirm, no other body in the Slate would have evinced Milder the same circumstances; and just now, forsooth, because they sought at the end of three years some portion of their just and long withheld rights by legal means, they were to be held up to the House and to the country, as being oppressive and unjust. He should be glad to know would any of those hon. Members who so maligned them, show one-tenth part of their forbearance, had they to live three years deprived of the ordinary means of their support? The hon. member for Meath cheered; but certainly he must himself be as much maligned out of the House as he maligned the clergy in it, if he was in the habit of acting towards his tenants with the same consideration that the clergy had acted towards their parishioners. He verily believed, the fault of the clergy to be, that they had forborne too long, and by an acquiescence in a course of injustice and wrong adopted towards them, rather than produce collision and ill-will in their respective parishes, they had caused themselves to be neglected and abandoned by the Government, and abused and spoken of in all manner of evil by those who were courting the popularity of the mob.

Mr. Firm

rose to order. The hon. Gentleman had no right to impute motives.

Mr. Shaw

admitted he should not impute motives, and therefore he would only say hypothetically, that if such were the hon. Member's motives, he could not take a better means of indulging them, and though he could not say the object of the hon. Member was to cause disturbance and the violation of the law in Ireland, by the language he used in that House, he must be allowed to give his opinion, that it had that tendency. If tithes were to be commuted, that was another question, to which he was willing to give attention when it came before the House. If hon. Gentlemen objected to the principle of tithes, let them attack that principle openly and manfully; but it was an unmanly and an unworthy course to accuse of tyranny and oppression, men who for three years had been suffering unheard-of privations, because they sought a small portion of their legal dues, which were not even alleged to be other than lawful. He would not harrow the feelings of the House by mentioning the many instances of suffering of which he was aware. He acknowledged with gratitude the kindness and liberality of the English people in endeavouring to alleviate the distress of the Irish clergy, but the sum collected was necessarily but as a drop in the ocean com- pared to the sum absolutely owing to them, and withheld. He knew several clergymen who refused the relief sent, and pointed out others whose distress was still greater than their own, as men requiring it; others could not be induced to receive it, although living on the very lowest means of subsistence—["name, name,"]—No! from motives of prudence and delicacy to individuals, he would not name them, and he did not fear that the House would think him capable of inventing a statement in order to excite their feelings. As to the tithe affray in the county of Cork, alluded to, what did it prove but that the clergy could not enjoy any portion of their rights without the aid of the civil power, and he was informed that the soldier in question had been shot by the people from behind a ditch, and not through any accident by the police. As to upbraiding Government for affording assistance to the clergy as had been done by some few Members who preceded him, he had to charge the Government with having too long delayed that assistance and protection, and thus encouraged opposition to the due enforcement of the laws—and he would ask of the Government as no favour, but demand it as of right and strict justice, that while the clergy acted within the law (and they had done much more) they should be protected by the law, and enjoy the same privileges as any other class of his Majesty's subjects.

Mr. Fergus O'Connor

thought the hon. member for Dublin University had dealt very severely with the hon. member for Meath. As to the assertion of the hon. Member of the great arrears due to the Irish clergy, he would state that in some dioceses they had actually been offered 15s. in the pound, which they refused to receive, alleging that if they did, they should be compromising their successors. The hon. Member seemed to doubt whether the person who had been shot in the southern part of Ireland had been shot by the police or the people. Now, he would take upon himself to state, that he was shot by the police, and that, had it not been for the forbearance of the Magistrates, there would most assuredly have been a repetition of the scenes of carnage and blood which had hitherto taken place in that part of the country. Every drop of blood sacrificed in the collection of tithes, the late right hon. Secretary and his Majesty's Ministers were answerable for.

Mr. Henry Grattan

, after the statements which had been made against him by the hon. member for Dublin University, could not refrain from again addressing the House. There never was a more base and unfounded calumny than the statement, that the severity with which he treated his tenants had reduced them to such a state of distress and misery, as to render it impossible for them to pay their tithes. He did not covet being called a good landlord, but he was sure no one could call him a bad one.

Mr. Shaw

said, that he had it from a clergyman in the county of Meath, that the reason why the tenants were unable to pay their tithes was, the severity with which they were treated by their landlords, and the high rents they were called upon to pay.

Mr. Henry Grattan

said, that there was not a single tenant of his in the county of Meath, who paid more for his land than from 2s. 6d. to 5s. an acre.

Mr. Baring

deprecated going into a discussion on a matter not then before the House. They were, however, every day hearing from Ireland complaints of the conduct of the police, and statements about people being shot in this place and in that, and tithes set down as the sole cause of these lamentable occurrences. All the while the noble Lord was sitting most composedly on his seat, with a Motion on the Notice-book respecting Irish tithes; the House being completely in the dark as to what might be the intentions of his Majesty's Government on the subject; there being at the same time a notice also on the subject of tithes, but relating to England. Now, with great deference to the noble Lord, he would say, that the introduction of a measure upon the subject of English tithes was this year not pressing, and might without disadvantage be postponed to a future Session. It would keep till another year; but the noble Lord had permitted a notice upon the subject to remain on the book, and he, therefore, felt desirous of asking him whether or not it was his intention to bring it forward in the course of the present Session of Parliament? As to the communications which he was daily and almost hourly receiving from the country upon that subject, there was no end to them; and he, therefore, put it to the noble Lord to say, openly, and at once, whether or not it was his intention to bring the measure forward this Session, or to postpone it till the next?

Lord Althorp

said, that as usual, the hon. Member who had just sat down took the opportunity of making a severe attack on his Majesty's Government. In answer to the hon. Member's question, he would say, that it was his intention to persevere in the present Session with the English Tithe Commutation Bill, and also to bring on the question respecting the Irish tithes. He had a notice of motion on that subject for Wednesday last, but as there was no House it fell to the ground. It was, however, his intention to bring it on on Monday next, and on that day he would move, in a Committee of the whole House, certain Resolutions as to the tithes of 1831, 1832, and the present year. The hon. Member (Mr. Baring) complained of the arrangement of public business in that House by Ministers; but if the hon. Member would consider what had been done in the House, and the state of the order-book, he would see that it was impossible for Ministers to get on with the public business faster than they had done. When the long discussions into which the House had been so constantly led, on matters which tended to no practical result, were taken into consideration, and when it was also considered, that Ministers had only two days to bring on the public business, so as to have the precedents of the other business on the paper, it would be seen that the fault of not going on faster with the business was not theirs. He would repeat, that it was his intention to persevere with the English Tithe Commutation Bill, to move the resolutions respecting the Irish tithes on Monday; and after the discussion on the subject of colonial slavery should have been gone through, to go on with the Church Temporalities (Ireland) Bill.

Mr. Goulburn

was very desirous that the tithe question should be dealt with in a becoming manner. Now, the noble Lord complained of the delay which arose from the interminable discussions which were carried on upon every question. In that he quite agreed with the noble Lord; but he must tell him that the great cause originated in the fact that the measures of his Majesty's Government were introduced to the House before they had been properly discussed, and, therefore, it became necessary in the Committees to suggest alterations without end; whereas, if further time were taken for consideration, these discussions would be prevented. It was with these facts staring him in the face that he had entertained the hope that the noble Lord would have determined to perfect his measure, rather than enforce a discussion upon every line and every clause of it. He still hoped that the noble Lord would be induced to give way to the opinion which had been so strongly expressed, because, for his own part, he could not regard this matter in any way as a party question. He was only anxious that a question of such vast importance should not be hastily dealt with.

Sir Edward Knatchbull

said, that he hoped the Gentlemen on that (the Opposition) side of the House might be allowed to take the liberty of making such observations as they deemed expedient, without having any unfavourable impression thrown upon their motives. The noble Lord, entertaining, as no doubt he did, the best intentions towards the Church Establishment, could not fail to know that this was a question which had excited throughout the country the most intense anxiety, and he hoped that, under the auspices of the noble Lord, it would be brought to a satisfactory issue. He begged to assure that noble Lord, that, acting always upon the same principles which he had uniformly kept in view, he would not, for his own part, enter into the discussion of this question with any feeling of party spirit. He begged to assure the noble Lord, with that sincerity for which he trusted the noble Lord gave him credit, that he would materially forward the object which the noble Lord had in view, by following the suggestions which had been thrown out by the hon. member for Cambridge University; and he thought the adjournment of the introduction of any measure on this subject, with a view to afford more time for deliberation on so vast a subject, would tend much to increase the value of any future measure.

Lord Althorp

said, he had hoped that his conduct in that House had not been such as to have evinced a disposition to transgress on the courtesy of the House; but the tone which had been assumed by some hon. Gentlemen was such that he felt he could not remain quiet. The hon. Baronet seemed to wish him to delay the measure to which he had referred; but he found it impossible to do so; and it certainly was his intention, and he should feel it his duty, to press the measures with reference to the Church this Session.

Sir Robert Peel

thought, that it would facilitate the other business of the Session if the noble Lord would postpone the English Tithe Commutation Bill to the next Session, or refer its details to a Committee above-stairs. In the present state of the business it could not be expected, that they could get into the Committee on the Bill in less than a month from this time. They would then be in the dog-days, and he need not remind the House of the great difficulty of getting a full attendance at that time of the year; and, certainly, the dry discussion on the details of the measure would be no great inducement to Members to attend. He would, therefore, urge the propriety of sending the details of the Bill to a Committee up stairs. The present state of business on the paper was almost a disgrace to the House. It was utterly impossible that it could be gone through in the present Session. He was aware that the noble Lord had no control over the business brought forward by others, but he had over the business of Government; and he hoped, therefore, that he would not allow any new business to be brought in until at least there was some prospect of disposing of what they had already before them. He should wish that the noble Lord would take two or three days to consider the actual state of the public business, and then decide on what should be submitted to the consideration of the House; for what with the attendance at the early sittings of the House, the attendance in Committees up stairs, and the late sittings in the House at night, and allowing some short time for attention to domestic affairs, it was impossible that Members could get through the business which now stood on the book; and yet, in the midst of this pressure, he was not a little surprised to hear the Solicitor General give notice of a Bill for the abolition of imprisonment for debt. There should, he repeated, be some understanding with Government as to the business which was to be pressed on the attention of the House.

Colonel Davies

thought, that Government were not to blame for the multiplicity of the notices on the book, but he thought they were to blame in not enforcing more strictly the regulations which the House had agreed upon for the despatch of business. The House sat at twelve o'clock each day for the purpose of receiving petitions, in order that they might be ready to proceed with the regular business of the day at five; and yet, after that hour, many petitions were presented, and discussions were allowed to arise out of them. This ought to be prevented. If some arrangement to that effect were not made, he would move for the appointment of a Committee to consider the best mode of conducting the public business of that House.

Dr. Lushington

thought, that the English Tithe Commutation Bill was a measure of the utmost importance. He would admit, that the adoption of its principle required mature consideration, but when that principle were once agreed upon, he did not think that the details would take up as much time as the right hon. Baronet seemed to apprehend. He could assert, that he had never seen any important measure introduced in a more perfect state than that was. He earnestly hoped that Government would persevere in it, for, from his own knowledge, he could state, that there was a rising disposition in the people of England to resist the payment of tithes. It was to counteract that feeling that he would urge the passing of this Bill; for if they allowed this feeling to grow as it had taken root in the hearts of the Irish, they would permit an evil which it would be found impossible to counteract.

Mr. Rigby Wason

thought, that the great evil with respect to the business of the House was that of not allowing notices to take precedence of motions on all days. Whole nights were taken up in the discussion of Motions which, though they led to no practical result as related to the objects of the Motions themselves, deferred the more important business of the Session. He would suggest, as a remedy, that Motions should take precedence every day of notices of Motions. In that way only could they get through the public business.

Mr. Stanley

quite agreed in the sound doctrine of the hon. Member who spoke last as to the despatch of the public business. It was not his intention to enter into the various subjects which had been introduced in the course of this conversation. There was one question which stood for consideration that evening—a question of paramount importance to the country—with which he hoped the House would at once be allowed to proceed—he spoke of the abolition of colonial slavery. Every moment which Ministers had at command during the present week they had devoted to the consideration of the Resolutions which had been laid on the Table of that House. The House ought to bear in mind that but one of those Resolutions had been agreed to; and it must be evident to all, that the state of the country rendered it imperative for the Legislature to go on. He trusted, therefore, that the House would now permit this conversation to close, considering the immense importance of the business which was about to be discussed, and that they would at once proceed to the Order of the Day.

Sir Matthew While Ridley

said, the hon. member for Ipswich (Mr. Wason) had given the House good advice, and he hoped that it would be attended to. He condemned the practice, on going into a Committee of Supply, of introducing grave and important questions which ought not to be brought forward without due notice. It was unquestionably the right of any hon. Member to proceed in that way; but it was a right that ought not to be exercised without the greatest caution and discretion. He knew not how the House was to get through the multiplication of business that was brought (and in some instances he would say most unnecessarily) before it. At Easter there were no less than 112 notices of motion on the Order-book; and at Whitsuntide there were ninety-nine notices of Motion, independent of the various Orders of the Day. Some of these notices were fixed for the 16th, and some for a period so late as the 18th of July.

Motion agreed to.