HC Deb 01 August 1834 vol 25 cc893-6

On the Question that the Speaker leave the Chair for the House to go into a Committee on the Tithes (Ireland) Bill.

Mr. O'Connell

begged to call the attention of the House to one very material feature in which the present Bill appeared to be deficient. As it now stood, the Bill only affected the tithe-payers in agricultural districts; but it was very well known, that in the towns there was an impost, called "Ministers' money," which would be left untouched. He did not wish to take up the time of the House this Session by pressing this matter upon their attention, but he hoped that next Session some measure would be adopted for putting the town and country districts on the same footing.

Mr. Littleton

thanked the hon. and learned Member for calling his attention to the subject, as it undoubtedly was important; but it was also a question of very great difficulty, by reason of the very trifling nature of the payments. With respect to the exaction, he did not believe that for the last three years as much as sixty per cent of this amount had been paid.

The House went into a Committee. On the question that a new clause introduced by Mr. Littleton, authorizing the revision of compositions already existing,

Mr. Goulburn

was astonished at the course taken by the right hon. Gentleman, a course such as no Minister of the Crown ever before attempted. He called for a revisal, or, in other words, an abrogation, of the solemn compact entered into ten years ago by the Composition Act between the Clergy and the people,—a compact sanctioned by Parliament, and one that gave general satisfaction. That Act was meant to be a final settlement of the difficulties attending the tithe question. By it the parishioners and clergy were empowered to appoint each party a Commissioner; and if these did not agree, an appeal was allowed to a superior tribunal. Now it was sought to annul that composition, and at the demand of one party only; for by the proposed clauses any seven rate-payers who only paid 24s. each could, on a complaint made before a Magistrate, which complaint was to be transmitted to the Commissioners of Woods and Forests, demand a new valuation, and so rescind the Composition Act. Nay, even the present incumbent was made subject to the errors committed by his predecessor in any valuation of tithe, and was punished for what was no crime of his. It was unjust to come down on the present rector, who had no means of disproving the accusation of overcharge made against his predecessor. He would like to know, if the present incumbent imagined that the composition entered into by his predecessor was too low, and so unfavourable to his own interest, would he, in the present state of public feeling in Ireland, dare demand an augmentation? If he did demand it, the law expenses he would incur would be ruinous to him. The composition was solemnly and deliberately entered into, and it would be unjust and injurious to violate it.

Lord Althorp

said, the Composition Act was a temporary expedient, and passed under circumstances that could not last. When the charge was transferred to other parties, it would be most unjust not to allow revision.

Mr. O'Connell

said, the Bill could not possibly work without those clauses ob- jected to by the hon. member for Cambridge. The Composition Act gave the clergy too much power; for without their consent no composition could be effected; and, in most places, the composition was too high.

Mr. Lefroy

said, that, so far from the clergy having an advantage, the clergyman was obliged to furnish his books to the Commissioners, and the absolute consent of both parties was necessary for the composition. Besides this, the parishioners, if aggrieved, could appeal to the Lord-lieutenant, and even from him to the Judge of Assize, and even from the Judge to Parliament. In 1822, the composition was said to be a conclusive measure; and he could not see on what principle of justice or honesty a clergyman should be called on now to state the sums received by him from 1814 to 1821—much less how he could be called on to state what sums his predecessor received in that time. He had heard much of the necessity of upholding the sacred nature of vested rights; but could Parliament, after having already despoiled the clergy of one-fifth of their revenues, now, without utterly subverting all title to property and all principles of justice, call on them to submit to the proposed inquiry, which would go to swindle them out of the rest? It was cruel and most unfair to put men, after the late successful resistance to tithes, to the criterion and ordeal of showing the nature of a composition entered into long ago, or of justifying the grounds of that composition. But he did not complain of the Government for the Bill as it at present stood, for the hon. member for Waterford had lately told them that the alterations had been stipulated for by the self-styled Irish Liberal Members; but he did complain of the measure as one of gross injustice, and one which, if adopted, must lead to mischief and confusion. The opening of the compositions already made was replete with injustice and oppression to the clergy, and would deprive the Government of all claim to confidence.

Mr. O'Reilly

was in favour of the clause as it stood. It was calculated to do justice both to tithe-payers and tithe-receivers.

Mr. Shaw

asserted, that nothing could be more unjust than the clauses which had been objected to by his hon. and learned friend (Mr. Lefroy). It was perfectly monstrous to give persons the power of opening compositions settled ten years ago. Suppose a landlord had a tenant owing him 500l., and, with a view to effect payment, the landlord said ten years ago that he would take 200l. or 300l. for the debt; would it not be unprecedentedly unjust, after a lapse of ten years, to give the successor of the tenant the power of calling upon the successor of the landlord to fulfil the offer of his predecessor? To what dreadful false swearing and villainy would not such an arrangement lead! So infamous were these clauses upon the face of them that, he solemnly protested, he could not believe that they had been suggested by the Government, but they must have sprung from some persons whose object was to injure, insult, and destroy the Church in Ireland. As a means of corrupting the Irish Bar, this Bill was most objectionable. He did not believe that there was a young barrister, with the slightest claims on the Irish Government, who did not look to become a Commissioner under the Bill.

Mr. Charles Walker

supported the clause. The hon. Member stated that, in several parishes, the clergy had succeeded in striking an unfair average against the parishioners, by laying before the Commissioners promissory notes taken at a long date for arrears due to them.

Mr. Henry Grattan

supported the clause, and bore testimony to the truth of the circumstance which the hon. member for Wexford had just stated.

Mr. Littleton

said, that, as the clauses under consideration had been so well discussed by the members for the Cambridge and Dublin Universities on the one side, and several of the Irish County Members on the other, he thought it unnecessary for him to take up the time of the Committee. The clauses were only introduced to meet a case which he trusted would not arise; if it did not arise, it was needless for him to say the clause would not be had recourse to.

The Clause was agreed to.

Upon reading the Clause appointing barristers Commissioners of Counties,

Mr. O'Dwyer moved, that the blank be filled up with the figure 4, instead of 6, years' standing.

On this Motion the Committee divided:—Ayes 12; Noes 66: Majority 54.

The Clause was agreed to.

The House resumed, and the Report was brought up.