HC Deb 06 March 1833 vol 16 cc299-303
Mr. Vigors

presented a Petition praying for the total and complete abolition of Tithes, from Kiblerin. The petitioners stated, that one guinea per acre was frequently paid as the tithe of potato-ground. They added, that the disappointment the public had experienced in not having, according to the declaration of the right hon. Secretary for Ireland, an extinction of tithes, had contributed much to the increase of discontent—a discontent aggravated by a subsequent enactment, the object of which was to render tithes perpetual. The petitioners looked upon the last Tithe-act as an awful experiment, uniting the power of the Crown and the clergy, the exercise of which had contributed to widen the breach between the Protestant Establishment and the occupying tenant of the soil. It was impossible that the tithe-system should continue much longer in any shape, consistently with the peace and good order of the country. The hon. Member begged to bear testimony to the respectability of the petitioners, and cordially supported the prayer of the petition.

Mr. Blackney

supported the prayer of the petition. He felt very much interested in this question, believing as he did in his soul, that no measure to be brought in by his Majesty's Ministers would ever pacify the people of Ireland, until there was an entire abolition of tithes.

Mr. Cobbett

, in expressing his hearty concurrence with the prayer of this Petition, which he did in consonance with all the opinions he had entertained and expressed for the last twenty years, said, he should now notice, with the leave of the House, the calling to account he had experienced the other day from the member for the University of Oxford. That hon. Member had called him to account, in a tone and manner which perhaps was not unbecoming in him, but which would have been unbecoming in any body but in the representative of the body of the Clergy of England. The hon. Member had contradicted him in fact, and cautioned him as to how he stated facts in future, a sort of caution that was not a very insignificant way of accusing a man of stating falsehoods. He had stated that of 10,000 and odd livings in the Church of England and Wales, there were only 4,000 and odd resident incumbencies. He held in his hand the Diocesan Returns on the subject which had been laid before Parliament, the nature of which he should state; and even if he had been in error, there might have been some apology for him, because he was not in Parliament when the Return was made, but certainly none could be allowed for the hon. Member, who himself was a Member of Parliament at the very time the Returns were laid before the House. From that Return it appeared, that in 1827, there were 10,533 benefices and only 4,413 resident incumbents. In 1828 he had no returns, but in 1829 the Returns showed (and these were the last that, had been made), that there were then 10,528 benefices, and but 4,516 resident incumbents, These were the general Returns. He should now mention some particular cases. In the diocese of Winchester, which was amply endowed, there were stated to be 3,389 benefices, and only 177 resident incumbents. In the diocese of Lincoln there were 1,273 benefices, and 503 resident incumbents; in that of Norwich, there were 1,076 benefices, and 360 resident incumbents. He had observed also, that there were in England and Wales more than 200 parishes in which there were no chinches, nor a solitary place where worship could be celebrated, and where consequently the inhabitants could not observe the Lord's day though the prayers of all the Petitions presented to the House should be acceded to. By the present return, it appeared that there were 254 parishes so situated, in which by no possibility could there be any service, but where the incumbents look very good care to enforce the payment of their tithes regularly to the last farthing. He had observed, also, that there were 1,500 parishes in which they had neglected to uphold the parsonage houses, notwithstanding the very strict enactments of the law in that respect. By the present Return he found that there were no less than 1,753 parishes without parsonage houses, or 1,753 parishes where the clergymen boldly set the law at defiance, and where they not only did not reside themselves, but did not keep up the places for others to live. The statements, therefore, which he had made, and which had been contradicted by the hon. member for Oxford, were perfectly correct, and it now remained for that hon. Member to contradict him if he could.

Mr. Estcourt

was not aware of the Return to which the hon. Member had referred. He was not aware that there had been any returns since 1816. He, however, must say, that he thought the hon. Member had hardly stated the thing fairly. According to the hon. Member there were in 1827 only 4,413 residents out of 10,500 benefices. He suspected that these 4,413 were the incumbents, resident in parsonage houses only; but he thought it would be found that the number of Clergymen residing in parishes, though not in parsonage houses, would greatly exceed that number. He found by the Returns of 1816, that there were then 10,300 benefices, and 3,798 incumbents constantly residing in their parsonage houses. To these must be added 1,990, who were resident in their parishes, though not in parsonage houses; and that was the case not only in that year, but in the four years preceding the time of that Return. Besides these, again, there were 1,900 curates, who were constantly residing in the places where they held their cures. Ail these taken together made a number of 7,688, either living in their parsonage houses, or in houses in their parishes. Besides this, there were 227 livings vacant during that year, and that number must also be added to the 7,688; for the clergyman who died in the course of the year, would not, of course, be put down amongst those constantly resident, nor would his successor, who probably was not appointed at the moment the Returns were made up. And yet it might be perfectly true that the parish had always had the benefit of a constantly resident clergyman. This gave a return of about 8,000 clergymen constantly doing duty, and residing in their parishes; but there were many, who, from their good behaviour, had other appointments, such as preferment to stalls, besides their livings, who often did duty at their benefices, but who being necessarily sometimes absent, constantly kept their curates to perform their labours in their absence. In fact, therefore, they conferred on their parishes a double advantage, from the constant residence of their curates, and the frequent residence of themselves; and yet they would not be put down on the Return as persons constantly residing on their benefices. He thought he had said enough to show that the observations of the hon. member for Oldham were not quite so well founded as the hon. Member imagined them to be.

Mr. Goulburn

deprecated the attack which had been so unjustly made on the clergy upon the presentation of the present petition; and said, that if such attacks were to be made, he must be heard in answer to them, notwithstanding the understanding not to debate petitions.

The Speaker

said, he was sure the House would concur with him, that complaints had been frequently made by every hon. Member of the House, that they made no progress in presenting petitions by the present arrangement, because there was so much discussion; and nine-tenths of those Gentlemen who made the complaint, he found to be more frequently than any others guilty of a deviation from the rule that had been laid down. If, as some Gentlemen said, the House sat from sunrise to sunset, the whole of that time would be occupied with petitions if they proceeded as they did at present.

Mr. Littleton

said the very gross irregularity arose with the hon. member for Oldham—he who had last night proposed that the petitions should be read, but no observations whatever made on them.

Mr. Henry Grattan

, to show the bad working of the present system, stated that, in the book which he then held in his hand, there were 415 names down, while the Speaker had only got to the eightieth.

Petition laid on the Table.