HC Deb 24 March 1834 vol 22 cc598-605
Mr. Littleton

brought up a Memorial from the reverend T. Plunkett to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In moving, that it be laid upon the Table, he wished to submit a few observations to the House. He was quite sure that the House would bear in mind what had passed a few nights ago on the subject of the appointment of the reverend T. Plunkett to the deanery of Down, and would not think it unfair if he begged its indulgence for a short time. He was desirous of taking this course, solely because remarks had been made on the conduct of his noble friend, Lord Plunkett, which no man would think ought to be passed over without an answer. He should not have delayed the explanation so long, had he not daily expected to receive the memorial, a copy of which he now presented, and the presentation of which seemed to afford the fittest and most becoming opportunity for making the desired explanation. His right hon. friend, in the Motion he had submitted the other night, did not in express terms speak of Lord Plunkett as having recommended his son to the deanery of Down, nor did he in express terms advert to the details of the Report to which the signature of Lord Plunkett was undoubtedly attached; but nobody who had heard him could receive any other impression from what he said than this—that Lord Plunkett, having been thoroughly apprised of the alteration as to the deanery of Down, recommended by the Report of the Commissioners, had, notwithstanding, recommended his son to the Government as a fit person to be appointed to that deanery. The right hon. Gentleman would not deny that such was the natural inference from his observations. There were two points in the case; first, the statement, or rather the implied statement, that Lord Plunkett had recommended his son to the deanery of Down. This was the first point; and as what took place in the House of Commons was almost immediately known through the ordinary channels elsewhere, it no sooner reached Lord Grey than he (Mr. Littleton) was informed by his Lordship that Lord Plunkett had made no application to him for the deanery—that the appointment was the unsolicited and c gratuitous act of Lord Grey and of the English Government. He had afterwards had an opportunity of perusing a letter from Lord Plunkett, which appeared to be written on the first intimation he had received of the intention to appoint his son, and that it came from Lord Grey, who stated his desire to confer the deanery upon the reverend T. Plunkett, to which he had been stimulated by his respect for his friend Lord Plunkett, and by the excellent character he had heard of his son. Lord Grey seemed to think it not too much, that the son of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland should be honoured with such an appointment. This statement a would probably be sufficient to satisfy every hon. Member that Lord Plunkett had had nothing to do with the nomination of his son to the deanery of Down. It might then not unnaturally be asked why Lord Plunkett, knowing the contents of the Report of the Commissioners had allowed his son to accept the deanery? On that point, he (Mr. Littleton) begged to call the attention of the House to this brief statement. The Commission, consisting of six Bishops, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, ex-officio, and two or three other persons, passed the Great Seal in the month of July. Early in December following, Lord Plunkett was appointed Lord Chancellor of Ireland. The Commissioners did not immediately set to work, and Lord Plunkett never attended any of the preliminary meetings; he had very serious and onerous duties to discharge elsewhere; while in Ireland his Court required his daily presence, and during a great part of the year he was in this country discharging his parliamentary duties. He had, therefore, never in a single instance attended any of the sittings of the Commissioners; he was totally and entirely unacquainted with their proceedings, further than that he knew they were acting in complete accordance with the principle which led to their appointment by his Majesty. Of the evidence taken by them, and of the results to which that evidence had led, he knew nothing. It might not unnaturally be asked, why Lord Plunkett signed the Report of the Commissioners? He had been very averse from signing it; but on its being earnestly represented to him that his refusal to append his name would, considering the situation he held, throw suspicion on the character of the whole proceeding, and lessen the weight of the recommendation in the Report, and understanding also distinctly from the Commissioners that he should not be pledged to more than the general principle, being ignorant of the details, he did consent to sign it. Whether in so doing Lord Plunkett acted wisely or not, was not the question he (Mr. Littleton) had now to argue. It was simply necessary for him, in presenting Lord Plunkett's case, to state that from the first he had made no application for the nomination of his son—that it came upon him as a matter of great surprise—and that, at the time he permitted him to accept it, he was uninformed of the recommendation of the Commissioners, respecting the disappropriation of the tithes of the deanery of Down. Lord Plunkett was not apprised that any difficulty had occurred in the appointment of his son until the Midsummer following, when the then Chief Secretary (Mr. Stanley) informed him of the embarrassment of the Government, and of the impossibility of making an unconditional appointment in the face of a Report recommending the disappropriation of the greater part of the revenues of the deanery of Down. Upon this, what did Lord Plunkett do? He instantly, and without a moment's hesitation, while he expressed his surprise that he was unacquainted with the fact, admitted it was necessary that his son should consent that Government and Parliament should be at liberty to treat the deanery as vacant, and he did consent that a clause should be inserted in the Bill then in contemplation to enable the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and the Privy Council so to treat it. What, then, were the simple facts? Lord Plunkett knew nothing of the appointment of his son—he was unfortunately ignorant of the proceedings of the Commissioners, and the recommendation of their Report; but the moment he was informed of the real state of the case, he consented that the deanery should be considered vacant, and a clause was introduced into an Act of Parliament accordingly. But it would be seen that some delay had taken place—two years had been allowed to elapse, during which nothing was done. It was material for the House to ascertain whether there was no cause for this delay. First, an Act of Parliament was necessary, and this of it- self would require some time; but this was not all; for the Commissioners themselves, on the 15th page of their Report, stated that more local information was requisite before any final decision could be had. It was very important that he should read this passage to the House for its information, since it would fully justify the Privy Council in looking further into the subject, with a view to the conclusive settlement of the question. "At the same time the Commissioners begged to state to his Majesty that though they had not been sparing of their time and labour in collecting and arranging information, &c. still, supposing his Majesty to grant his approval to the principle, the want of minute local information in some particular places as to the value, &c. of several of the smaller parishes may afford reasons for not applying the principle. They, therefore, requested that more local information might be obtained before a final determination was formed." The result was, that what the Commissioners had recommended, as far as the principle was concerned, was found, for a time at least impracticable. He would take the liberty of reading to the House a letter from the reverend Dr. Ratcliffe, one of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and a Member of the Privy Council, which he addressed to the Lord Chancellor. It ran thus:— March 19th, 1834. My dear Lord—I perfectly recollect that you for some time, at the last meeting of the Board of Ecclesiastical Inquiry, refused to sign the draft, but were persuaded by the Committee present to sign the draft of the Report, on their suggesting that by so doing you were not committed to the details of the schedules, but only to the body and principles of the report, your disapprobation whereof would be implied by your refusal. You were not, as I can recollect, present at framing any of the schedules respecting the Deanery of Down, and, I think, I may with certainty say that you were not. To pursue still further the reasons for delay. He would observe that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners sat for the first time on the 22nd of September, under the Church Temporalities Act, and were necessarily employed for a considerable time in the appointment of officers and other preliminary business, and it was not till now that they found themselves in a situation to call for Returns. He, for one, on his own responsibility, had taken measures to expedite this inquiry, and a Board of Privy Council had, in consequence, been summoned for the earliest possible day—the 18th of next month—for this purpose. He would now proceed to read two extracts from a letter written by Lord Plunkett:— Now first I shall think it right to state that I have bounded my tour to the Deanery of Down—that previous to the month of September, 1831, there was no vacancy of the Deanery expected—that in consequence of the death of the late Bishop of Derry, and the promotion of Bishop Ponsonby to that see, the Bishoprick of Kildare became vacant. That the opinion of Lord Grey, and of the other members of the Government, was, that the see of Kildare should be filled by Mr. Knox, the then Dean of Down, and that Doctor Grey, without any application on my part, was so good as to send to me, and to state his wish to appoint my son to the Deanery of Down. I felt the kindness of the offer, and accepted it gratefully. The Deanery was stated by Mr. Knox to be of the annual value of 2,000l. and upwards, and the living of Dromore, which my son resigned, was of the value of 1,200l. Neither then, nor at any time until long after my son was in possession of the Deanery, I think in July 1832, did I hear a hint that there was any objection to the filling up the vacancy absolutely and unconditionally. Complaints had been made by the House of Commons and Lords, as to the undue exercise of patronage towards my family, and great numbers of gross falsehoods were asserted. Amongst others, that my son had continued to hold the living of Dromore along with the Deanery, but not a surmise that there was any objection to the appointment being made without condition. At this time the duties of Chancellor of Ireland had devolved on me. I had been arduously engaged in clearing off heavy arrears, and discharging the duties of my office; and I had, in addition, full occupation to my mind from my Parliamentary duties, which I could not put aside. Under all these circumstances, I hope I do not draw too largely on the confidence of any fair mind, when I declare, on my honour as a gentleman, that when the Deanery of Down was offered to me for my son, by Lord Grey, I had not the most distant recollection, nor do I believe I ever had the slightest knowledge, of any arrangement having been proposed by the Commissioners in respect to it. I now come to what took place in July, 1832, when the objection was started. Mr. Stanley sent for me. He showed me the Report of the Commissioners, and stated the embarrassment in which he felt the Government placed by the unconditional appointment. He will inform you that I instantly declared my acquiescence, and that, on the part of my son, I authorized him to state to the House that the Deanery should be liable to be dealt with in the same way as if it were actually vacant. He did declare so, and this declaration was received as perfectly satisfactory. It any censure could arise out of the transaction, of course the other members of the Government must bear their share of it. He must declare, after the closest attention to the explanation of the noble Lord, that he did not believe any one could imagine that he had either applied for the appointment for his son, or that he was acquainted with the details of the Report, which he was led to sign by the representations made to him. But there were hon. Members who took a different view of the subject, he trusted they would abstain from the expressions till they had perused that evidence, which would now very shortly be laid before them.

Mr. Cobbett

would, under this injunction, say nothing further, than that to his mind the matter was a great deal worse after the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman, than it was before.

Mr. Goulburn

said, if he wished to urge the House to anything like animadversion, he could not have taken a better course than by entering into the statement which had just been made by the right hon. Secretary. The noble Lord, the Chancellor of Ireland, had been called on to advise the Crown on various matters connected with the Church of Ireland, and being so called, he actually signed a report without being aware of its contents. The noble Lord was called on to guide the Crown—to point out the right path for future conduct: he signed a report, however, allowed that report to come before the House of Commons, backed by the full weight of his authority—of his, the Lord Chancellor's high sanction and recommendation, and then he sent the right hon. Secretary down to tell the House that of the contents of such report, he, the Lord Chancellor, knew nothing whatever. [Mr. Littleton: I did not say "Knows nothing."] "But you said the noble Lord had not read the report which he signed, which is pretty nearly the same thing." His (Mr. Goulburn's) object was to see these livings separated; but he should now only say, that he reserved to himself the power, when an arrangement should have been entered into, to enter fully into the merits of the question, being contented to leave it for the present, as far at least as Lord Plunkett was con- cerned, to the explanations of the right hon. Gentleman opposite.

Major Beauclerk

said, that the church of one of these six parishes happened to be upon some property of his, and had been built by his grandfather. The clergyman who had been appointed to this parish, had been most cruelly wetted under this commission. His salary was 100l a-year, and in consequence of the representation made by them he had left the parish and gone to one with a salary of 80l. a-year, of which 80l. he had to pay 40l. towards the expenses of valuation under the Tithe Act. Now he was informed, that the recommendation of the Commissioners was not to be followed. Another powerful interest had stepped in and prevented his just expectations from being realized. He had been led to expect that his living would be 200l. a-year, as in other parishes, instead of which he was likely to starve.

Mr. Littleton

said, that from some inquiries which he had made, he was inclined to think that the situation of the individual alluded to was not so bad as he had represented it to be. At the same time the conduct which the hon. Gentleman complained of, was warranted by the Act of Parliament.

Mr. Robinson

thought the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman, as to the conduct of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, not at all satisfactory. Of what worth was any public document which derived its chief value from the name of an eminent individual, if a friend of that individual could afterwards come down to the House and say that at the time he signed the document he was utterly ignorant of its contents? He would not attribute any thing like incorrectness to the statement contained in the letter of the noble Lord, but he either knew the contents of the report, or he did not. If he did know the contents of the report, his son should not have accepted of the appointment; and if he did not know anything of its contents, his signature to it was highly improper. This was a dilemma from which the noble Lord could not escape—and he thought the noble Lord's statement very unsatisfactory, although it placed him in somewhat a different light as to the first acceptance of the appointment.

Mr. Secretary Stanley

said, that it was no unfrequent thing for individuals to attach their names to reports which laid down the law, and the principles upon which the Commissioners acted, without pledging themselves to the details, which depended, as in this case, upon local information as to each separate union. Thus his noble friend had sited this report, without thereby rendering himself responsible for that which altogether depended upon local information.

Mr. Ruthven

said, that however suspicious tine conduct of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland might have appeared on a former occasion as to this appointment, that suspicion was now removed, and he was glad that the saddle was placed on the right horse. It was not very creditable to the Irish Church that this appointment should have been given to the son of the Chancellor, merely because he was such, and without any reference to his qualifications for the office. Since Dean Plunkett had held the office, he was in the receipt of 1,400l. a-year, which, if the recommendation of the Commissioners had been adopted, would have been appropriated to other unions. Nothing could be more improper than the conduct which had been pursued upon this occasion. Was the high office of an individual to be made the means of sheltering his friends from the consequences of an act which might consign a young man innocent in the transaction, and ignorant as to the consequences, to possible ruin.

The Memorial to lie on the Table and be printed.