HC Deb 13 August 1834 vol 25 cc1240-51
Colonel Perceval

presented a petition signed by upwards of seven hundred persons, and by the great body of the noblemen and landed proprietors of the county of Cork, which went in his opinion in a great degree to disprove the arguments made use of by certain members of the Cabinet and others, namely, that the landlords of Ireland were in favour of the Bill, which he rejoiced to say had met with the fate it so justly merited in the other House of Parliament. This petition was in favour of maintaining the integrity of the Church establishment, both as regards its revenues and its connexion with the State. It adverted to the 5th of Queen Anne, which united the Church of England and Ireland as one Church. It also alluded to the Act of Union which, notwithstanding the arguments formerly made use of by the member for St. Alban's (Mr. Ward) was intended to secure to the people of Ireland as a condition of the Union, the maintenance in its integrity, of the Irish branch of the Church of England. The petitioners also deprecated, and in this he heartily concurred with them, the issuing of that commission, which he had on a former occasion designated as "unhallowed" the propriety of which description he (Colonel Perceval) saw no reason to doubt. He was happy to find that an opinion which he had ventured to express in private with respect to the illegality of that commission, had been confirmed by a noble Lord in the other House of Parliament, who had been one of the most distinguished ornaments of the English bar and bench. The petitioners disclaimed any feelings of hostility towards any religious sect. They would willingly extend toleration to every form of religious worship, and grant a participation in political privileges under these safeguards, which the Legislature has provided for the security of the Church. He could not help feeling flattered that a petition of this importance, bearing the signatures of persons who might fairly be considered the representatives of the wealth, respectability, and intelligence of the county of Cork, should have been intrusted for presentation to his hands, in the absence of his gallant friend the member for Bandon Bridge (Captain Bernard), who was prevented by indisposition from attending. He repeated, that the petition offered a strong and substantive denial to the assertions of certain members of the Cabinet, that the landed proprietors of Ireland were favorable to that Bill of spoliation and confiscation, which, he rejoiced to say, met with its fate on Monday night, and he sincerely trusted that if ever a similar measure should be introduced into Parliament, it would meet with a similar fate. If tithes were not paid in Ireland, on the heads of his Majesty's Government be it; but he (Colonel Perceval) would maintain that if the laws were supported, tithes would be paid as willingly as ever in Ireland. The exertions of the clergy to support the laws and maintain the institutions of the country had been badly repaid by motions such as that of the hon. member for St. Alban's (Mr. Ward) for the spoliation of their property; while, on the contrary, those who had outraged the laws and fostered rebellion, had met with encouragement and support.

Mr. O'Reilly

wished to ask the gallant Colonel, whether the petition he had just presented, contained any prayer in favour of the rejection of the Bill, which had just been thrown out by the other House; for if it did not, the observations he had made upon that subject were quite uncalled for. He was also desirous to know from the gallant Colonel how it happened, since he had so indignantly deprecated the boon of forty per cent granted by the Legislature, from the Consolidated Fund, and had taken so active a part in the debate, he had entirely forgotten to vote on the question? It was very convenient for hon. Members to absent themselves from divisions, when they wished to maintain a character for disinterested conduct, but he would tell that hon. and gallant Gentleman the real motive for such conduct could not be mistaken. The great objections taken to the Bill were made under a pretence of defending the property of the established Church, and supporting its rights and privileges, but the real object was, to keep up a system that was against the peace and happiness of that country, as it was against the wishes and general feeling of the empire. The boasted loyalty of the opponents of the Bill flowed not from conviction and principle, but from interested motives and a desire to maintain an ascendancy where they possessed political influence and property, which they feared might be wrested from them when the people became in that situation that they might maintain it for themselves. For his own part, he could not look upon the rejection of the Irish Tithe Bill by the other House of Parliament, when he viewed the effects that would certainly result from it, without feelings of dismay." It had been very insolently whispered out of that House, that the representatives of the property of Ireland had voted against the Tithe Bill; but he would fearlessly place the supporters of the Bill, in point of the property they really possessed, against the boasted representatives of the property of Ireland; and when it was fully considered how the estates of these great land-owners were incumbered by mortgages and judgments, he had not the least doubt but the balance would be vastly in favour of the rejected measure. Upon all occasions like the present, the Church was invariably put forward as a stalking-horse; but it was for the purpose of maintaining the unhallowed ascendancy of party, and the defence of those last strongholds of corruption, the corporations, that hon. Members had in view when they raised the cry of "The Church is in danger."

Mr. Ward

said, that the gallant Colonel had taken rather an Irish way of introducing a discussion on the Tithe Bill, as not one word was said respecting it in the petition which he had just presented. The petitioners talked indeed of the Commission of Inquiry, which the gallant Colonel called an unhallowed commission. He regarded this commission with very different feelings. He thought it would prove the first step towards the removal of that accursed system (he would reply to one harsh epithet by another) which had so long rendered Ireland a prey to agitation and anarchy. As to the Bill, upon the fate of which the gallant Colonel was bold enough to congratulate the House, he viewed its rejection in a very different light. He lamented to see, perhaps, the only opportunity of settling a great national question, gratuitously thrown away; and the clergy of Ireland, whose individual rights he had been most anxious to respect consigned for a whole twelvemonth to hopeless penury and the most abject destitution. There was not a possibility of enforcing the law as it now stood, and that the gallant Colonel well knew; for when he talked so loudly of the responsibility of others, he only did it in the hope of hiding, by a little blustering, his own apprehensions as to the effects of the blow which he and the hon. and learned Recorder for Dublin, and those who thought with them, had induced the other branch of the Legislature to direct against the unfortunate clergy. As to the articles of union, upon which the gallant Colonel had done him the honour to appeal to him personally, he (Mr. Ward) should be most happy to argue the point with the gallant Colonel at a very early period of the next Session; and he moreover pledged himself to do so; for the rejection of the Tithe Bill would at least, produce this good effect—it would convince the House of the absolute necessity of asserting its right of interfering with Church property in whatever manner the interests of the community might require, by a distinct and decisive vote, as a necessary preliminary to any legislation. He, therefore, should beg to give notice of his intention to bring forward this question again next Session, in the hope of seeing it brought to a very different decision; but, whatever the result of this notice might be, he was convinced that the clergy would never again have such terms offered to them as their so-called friends had now thought proper to reject.

Mr. Sinclair

, having had the misfortune to differ from his Majesty's Ministers with respect to the Irish Tithe Bill in its ultimate form, could not participate in those feelings of indignation, regret, and alarm, which its rejection in another place had excited in the minds of his hon. friend opposite, and the hon. Member near him. The fate of that measure had been somewhat singular. It had gone through many editions during its passage through that House; but he did think, that none of the later editions had been either auctior or emendatior, than that which preceded it. He had himself been a subscriber for the editio princeps, a goodly folio, with which he had been highly pleased, and which had been "ill-exchanged" for the mutilated duodecimo, which had been substituted in its place. The changes effected, both in the principles and details of the Bill, had been such as to force many politicians, who at first most cordially supported it, to contemplate its final arrangements with apprehension and repugnance; whilst others, who had originally denounced it as a measure injurious to the people of Ireland, had at length been induced to honour it with extravagant eulogy and suspicious approbation. The House of Lords had done their duty, and retrieved their character; they had obeyed the dictates of their consciences, and could not be held responsible for the results. He held, that it was man's province to act conscientiously, and leave the consequences to God. He lamented the fate of the original measure in this House much more than the rejection which the mangled edition had met with in the other. He would rather have shed a tear over its grave, than blushed at the spectacle of its mutilation. He would rather that the tree, once teeming with a nation's hopes, had been cut down, and burnt at once as a cumberer of the ground, than have seen it carted into the House of Lords lifeless and leafless, a misshapen and unseemly log, the mere magni nominis umbra, and bearing on its sides, instead of the choice and goodly boughs of national confidence and security, the ignominious and unhallowed trophy of Popish intimidation and ministerial servility. He repeated what he had stated on a former night, that the enemies of the Church would think that all their achievements amounted to nothing, as long as the Church had any privilege to forfeit or any property to lose. his hon. and eloquent friend, the member for St. Alban's, had just given notice that, at the earliest period of next Session, he should come forward, and, like grasping Goneril, insist on a further reduction of an already crippled establishment. When that attack had proved successful, some rapacious Regan—perhaps the learned member for Tipperary—would call for still greater reductions of the clergy and hierarchy of the Church; and then, from the vantage ground of these concessions, his hon. and learned friend the member for Dublin would discharge the whole artillery of his energetic eloquence against the shattered fabric which might still remain. At some remote period in the history of the Church—as distant, perhaps, as the year 1839, the hon. Member would address the House as follows:—"As long as Gentlemen contended for the inviolability of Church property, I could at least understand their principle. I might admire their consistency, however much I might differ from their views. But when once you had acknowledged this property to be national, how could you expect that the Irish nation would permit one fraction to be lavished in un-national or rather anti-national objects, such as the maintenance of an alien Church, which during centuries of misrule and oppression, has been bedewed with Ireland's tears, and fattening upon Ireland's blood? Oh! you would not treat any other portion of the empire as you do Ireland. You cannot even attempt to do a gracious act towards that unfortunate country without marring all its advantages by the ungracious manner in which you perform it. You cannot make up your minds to remove the galling manacles of ecclesiastical bondage, without leaving a few links entwined round our necks, to remind us of our national degradation." These were the arguments which the House must prepare to meet. These were the principles which, he feared, would ere long prevail. An hon. and learned friend of his, the member for the Tower Hamlets had stated, on a former occasion, that he was ready to go a great way. If he once proceeded to the point, at which he at present intended to stop, he would find himself irresistibly compelled to advance a great deal further. Let him only be once snugly seated in the O'Connell omnibus, with the member for Tipperary standing on the steps behind, and blandly inviting other passengers to get in, his learned friend would travel very complacently to the bourn at which he was resolved to alight; but he would, perhaps, be a little startled when the vehicle drove past at a rail-road pace; in vain would he put his head out of the window, and say, "Hollo, coachman, stop! I want to get out. I am only booked to the half way house—stop, stop!" The skilful and experienced coachman would only accelerate his pace in proportion to the vehemence of his hon. friend's exclamations, who will find himself, at a moment when he least expected it, fairly landed at the goal of Church annihilation. He (Mr. Sinclair) had always advocated in that House the principles of civil and religious liberty. He had supported the Roman Catholic claims to civil privileges, not in 1829 "when fortune's favour filled the swelling sails," but in 1812, in the days of Mr. Percival, when a vote in behalf of that measure was a sure ground of exclusion from political aggrandisement. He had also been a Reformer, not merely in the days of Lord John Russell, but in opposition to the sentiments of Lord Liverpool and Mr. Canning. He might, therefore, fairly claim the merit of having lent to these measures an independent and disinterested aid; but he had no hesitation in avowing, that he would rather see despotism in the State than anarchy in the Church. He would rather that our civil privileges were encroached upon or swept away, than our spiritual blessings arid privileges annihilated or abridged; they transcended the former in importance in the same ratio, which eternity bore to time. To a temperate and effectual Church Reform he was a zealous and consistent friend; but such a measure stood at the greatest possible distance from giving countenance to Church destruction. Supposing that a noble and majestic river, which fertilized extensive districts, and supplied their inhabitants with the most essential of all aliments, became somewhat turbid in its course—he asked if it would not be wiser to discover and dam up the sources whence the noxious ingredients proceeded, than to cut off (if it were practicable) the stream from the fountain, and consign whole regions to dearth and sterility by leaving the channel dry? He was not surprised that the Papist, the Socinian, and the Infidel, should combine in an unhallowed confederacy to overthrow the Established Church. Each knew that the Church of England was the depositary and the bulwark of those great principles and doctrines which had been defined and laid down at the Reformation, and was, therefore, the chief obstacle to the success of his peculiar views. But he was not a little surprised, as well as mortified, to find the orthodox Dissenter concurring in the furtherance of such an object, and in endangering or limiting the propagation of those fundamental truths which he held in common with the Church. On such occasions, he was reminded of an occurrence, recorded by Dr. Southey, in his admirable biography of Nelson. The circumstance to which he adverted took place on the night before the battle of Trafalgar, a conflict on which the honour, the happiness, and the liberty of this country might be considered as mainly depending. At this critical moment, the Illustrious Hero was informed that a distinguished Admiral and a not less gallant Captain, on whose co-operation much depended, were not on good terms with each other. "Terms!" exclaimed Nelson; "Not on good terms? Why, yonder is the enemy!" These few emphatic words at once went home to the hearts of these brave men. They shook hands, and embraced as Englishmen; and, by their united exertions, essentially contributed to the glorious achievement of the following day. And he (Mr. Sinclair) would thus address both the Churchmen and the Orthodox Dissenter. Is this a time for jealousy and estrangement? Is this a time for weakening each other's hands, and discouraging each other's hearts? Yonder is the enemy? Yonder is the Romanist, whom nothing can ever satisfy but the establishment of that worship, which both deem idolatrous in every Church and Cathedral throughout the realm. Yonder is the Socinian, striving with sacrilegious hand to rend the diadem of his divinity from the Saviour's hallowed brow. Yonder is the infidel, surprised as much as delighted, at your mutual infatuation—wondering to see you turn against each other the weapons which he feared you would have co-operated in employing against himself, and hoping that, when your unhappy dissensions shall have led to the overthrow of each other's altars, he may be enabled to erect the temples of human reason with materials extracted from their ruins." He would exhort them to listen to the words of that volume, to which both professed an equal reverence. "Sirs, ye are brethren, why do wrong one to the other? Let brotherly love continue, and dwell together in unity; but if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed, the one of the other." He apologized for having troubled the House at such length, and should conclude by adding, that the Church of England and Ireland, as well as that of his native country, should always find in him a zealous and cordial supporter of their doctrines, their property, and their rights.

Mr. Potter

said, that he was so far from rejoicing at the decision of the other House of Parliament on Monday evening, that he regarded it with the most painful forebodings; because that measure he contemplated as the harbinger of peace to Ireland. So far as he could learn it was so considered by the clergy themselves for the noble Premier had presented a petition from a number of them expressive of their approbation of the measure. But it was not alone the people of Ireland who had reason to complain of the conduct of the other branch of the Legislature. The Bill to admit the Dissenters to the Universities had also been rejected, and he earnestly hoped that the House would not separate without expressing its opinion of the conduct of the Lords. The hon. member for Caithness had spoken of Dissenters, Socinians, and Infidels, thus classing them together; now he begged to tell that hon. Gentleman that the Dissenters were as moral and religious, and as firm believers in Christianity, as the Church, or even the Kirk itself. The hon. member had also made a gross attack on the Socinians as he termed them, but Unitarians were meant. He had the privilege and the happiness to belong to that sect, and he was ready to justify his belief. This was not the first time the Unitarians had been attacked and grossly misrepre- sented in that House and the other House of Parliament; this he considered most unfair, because that body could not defend itself. If this was the arena for religious discussions—if they were permitted in that House, he was prepared to prove by Scripture that the Unitarian doctrines were founded on truth and sanctioned by the New Testament itself.

Sir Edward Codrington>

believed a greater misfortune could not befall the country at the present moment than the rejection of the Irish Tithe Bill by the other House of Parliament. The event would be deeply lamented by every real friend of the Establishment, as it must effect a serious injury on the Church. He confessed he was at a loss to understand how the professed friends of the Irish Church could rejoice at the rejection of so beneficial a measure, and he could not help thinking, that such an event would tend ultimately to the great injury not only of the Church, but even the Peerage itself. He was surprised to hear any measure termed unhallowed which had passed that House by such a large majority.

Mr. Shaw

supported the Petition, and entirely concurred in the sentiments which had been expressed by his noble friend, who presented it. Hon. Gentlemen on the other side seemed to think, that the House of Lords was to be influenced, not by a sense of duty, as regarded the merits of the question under their consideration, but that they were to be overawed by the majorities of that House—then, indeed, would their usefulness be at an end. He conscientiously believed that the House of Lords rejected the Tithe Bill, from a just regard to the rights of property, and to the truest principles of justice and sound legislation: and he was persuaded that the good sense of the people of England, whatever temporary delusion they might labour under, would eventually approve of a course directed by such motives. The truth was, hon. Members very little understood the Bill; and he did not wonder at it, after all the changes it had undergone. They blamed him (Mr. Shaw) and those with whom he acted, for not endeavouring to meet the Government by some concessions in the settlement of that important and difficult question; whereas, in fact, they had made many and great concessions, in order to support the Bill as first introduced by the Government—because, in itsoriginal form, it proposed, that which had been so frequently recommended by committees of both Houses, in speeches from the Throne, and in those of the Ministers themselves—namely, a final adjustment of the tithe question by means of redemption; but the Bill, in its altered form, abandoned the principle of redemption, leaving the annual payment still to be made by the same persons. It also failed to vindicate the law—holding out a premium to outrage, and violating the rights of all other, as well as of Church property. It was, then, a little too much to expect that those who, though generally differing from the Government, nevertheless supported a measure of the Government which promised to be beneficial, were bound to follow them through all the windings of that devious and vaccinating course which they subsequently adopted, and by which the Bill they brought out in the end was not only different from, but the very opposite of the Bill they had at first introduced. With regard to the Commission which the hon. Member for St. Alban's (Mr. Ward) had described as calculated to put an end to what the hon. Member called an accursed system—in other words, that Established Church to which the hon. Member belonged—all he could say was, that he believed that Commission would tend, above all other experiments that had been tried in Ireland, to increase party animosity, and embitter religious discord, by suggesting to the Roman Catholic population, that they would lighten their burthens by diminishing the number of Protestants—and to Protestant proprietors, that they could alone preserve their religion by excluding Roman Catholics from their estates.

Mr. Charles A. Walker

regretted, that the Tithe Bill had been lost, but he chiefly rose, being a Protestant, to deny, that the Protestants of Ireland were of the same opinion with the hon. and learned member for the University of Dublin. He was convinced, that the rejection of the Tithe Bill would produce the most serious injury to the Catholic peasant, and to the Protestant clergy, the great majority of whom he was equally convinced were anxious for the passing of this Bill, but were controlled by their assessors, who never felt the pressure of want from the refusal of the people to pay tithe. Many even of those who voted in this House for the rejection of the Bill were glad it had passed: and one hon. Member who voted for the throw- ing out the Bill told the hon. and learned member for Dublin, on leaving the House, that he was glad that the Bill had passed. He was convinced that the clergy would think themselves well off if they got such a Bill next Session.

Colonel Stawell

could state, from communication which he had received recently, that many of the clergy were anxious for the passing of the last Bill. He regretted that the Bill had been lost, as he thought it would have been a great advantage to the Established Church.

Colonel Perceval

, in explanation, said, that an hon. Member (Mr. O'Reilly) having alluded to the fact of a number of the landed proprietors of Ireland having their properties mortgaged, rendered it necessary for him to say a few words. It was true a great many of the gentry were so circumstanced, but in the county which he had the honour to represent, there were a vast number of gentlemen who possessed great wealth, and who, fortunately for their country, resided on their estates. The county of Sligo was as peaceable as any part of England—there were no soldiers stationed within it, nor was it even asserted that the slightest disturbance existed there.

The Petition laid on the Table.

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