HC Deb 29 August 1835 vol 30 cc1119-22
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

meant to occupy the House only for a short period, while he explained the object of the Bill which it was his intention to ask leave to introduce. He must, in the first instance, justify himself for introducing such a Bill at this late period of the Session; nor would the Government have taken such a course if a direct and positive necessity for doing so had not been fairly made out. Indeed, they had abstained from exercising their discretion in this respect so long as there remained a chance—so long as the possibility of a hope existed—that the great Question which had occupied so much of the attention of the House during the present Session—he meant the great Question relating to the Irish Church—was likely to be brought to a settlement by a satisfactory Act of the Legislature. Had such an Act been passed, this Bill would of course, have been unnecessary, but now it had become indispensable, because it would be perceived, by the votes of the other House, that no steps were likely to be taken to forward the Irish Church Bill through Parliament during the present Session, and as that Bill had been abandoned, in point of fact, by his Majesty's Government, upon the ground that it would not be satisfactory in its present shape, and as it did not appear, from the minutes of the House of Lords, that it filled up the outline, or conformed to the principle laid down in the resolutions which had been acquiesced in by that House, the consequence was, that his Majesty's Government would be acting inconsistently with the declaration which they had made if they were to carry it on in its altered condition. It was not, therefore the intention of the Government to proceed further with this measure, nor did it seem that any steps were likely to be taken by any Member of the other House to advance its progress beyond the stage at which it had arrived. It was thus that the Irish Church Bill stood; but he would not at present go into that Question, as all he wished was merely to call the attention of the House and the country to the situation in which the Government would be left, unless the Bill which he was about to introduce were accepted by that House. They had heard, during the discussions which had taken place in the present Session, much about the lamentable condition of the Irish Clergy. It was said that the Irish Clergy would be reduced to a situation of the most abject misery if they were to be kept out of their incomes but he would ask the House and the country whether their condition would be improved by reason of what had occurred in another place? He would give no opinion himself upon the subject, but leave the question to be answered by futurity. He must say that the House of Commons were bound to do justice to the people of Ireland, and, at the same time, to afford adequate protection to the Clergy of the Established Church. The Ministers had endeavoured to accomplish both these objects, although they had failed in their attempt. By the law as it at present stood, it would be imperative on the Government to put in suit all claims which the Crown had for the recovery of the instalments due under the Million Act by the Irish Clergy. They would be compelled, however reluctantly, to adopt proceedings under that Act against the whole body of the Irish Clergy, even in cases in which they might know that the parties had no means of paying the demand, or that such a step must be taken without any good effect. He, for his part, would not undertake, in his capacity of a Minister of the Crown, the responsibility of not discharging his duty—the responsibility of, in short, suspending the law of the land. If it became necessary to enforce the written law against the Irish Clergy, he could not withhold his sanction from such a proceeding, and certainly, unless the Bill which he purposed to introduce were adopted, the Government would be bound to use every exertion in their power to enforce those claims—no matter whether the party had the means of paying or not. The House, however, would agree with him in saying, that it would be not only unjust, but positively oppressive, to enforce the law in such a way in cases in which it could be made to appear that the clergy had not received their incomes, and could not, therefore, be expected to pay. The object of this Bill was, not to remit a single farthing of those claims, but to give the Government authority, in case it could be shown that any individual clergyman was not in a condition to pay, to suspend all proceedings for the instalment due by him until Parliament should have re-assembled again. If this Bill were not passed, the Government would have no alternative but to proceed against every Member of the Irish Church, whether they possessed means to satisfy the demand or not. They would soon learn what was the result of the defeat of the Irish Church Bill; but, at present, all he asked of the House was, to grant to the Government legislative authority or power to abstain from the adoption of legal proceedings against all such individuals as should be proved incapable of paying, for a term extending only to the 5th of April next. He did not mean to propose, that the claims should altogether cease; on the contrary, he intended that the right to enforce their recovery, on the part of the Crown, should again revive in all respects, unless in the mean time a new Bill were brought under consideration, or a grant of public money was obtained to render proceedings unnecessary. The power which Government sought by this Bill might be called a dispensing power; and he trusted that those whom he had the honour to address would not only perceive that the proposition was a just and reasonable one, but admit that they, and those who acted in connexion with them, had done all in their power to settle this question consistently with the principle of the resolutions which had passed that House, and from which he, for his own part, was not disposed even in the slightest degree to retreat. They evinced nothing like personal or vindictive feelings in their proceedings on this subject, and had shown every possible disposition to consider it not only upon principles of justice, but with a view to the proper maintenance of the Church Establishment itself. The Government had been charged with being the enemies of the Church—with desiring to work its destruction—but their proposition, if carried into effect, would, he thought, be a triumphant answer, the best that could be given, to the false imputations which had been cast, not only on their measures, but their motives, for it would prove beyond the possibility of doubt, that they were neither indifferent about the rights of the Church, nor unsolicitous for the well-being of the clergy. It was for the protection of the clergy that his Majesty's responsible advisers now proposed bringing in this measure. But, without trespassing further on the patience of the House, he would conclude by moving for leave to bring in a Bill to alter and amend the Act of the 3d and 4th William 4th., for the relief of the owners of tithes in Ireland.

Mr. Ruthven

said, that he was prepared to place every confidence in the Government, and that he should offer no opposition to the introduction of this Bill. He thought that those who had defeated the Irish Church Bill would have cause to regret the unwise course which they had taken. There were, he admitted, many things in that measure from which he dissented, but still he, like many others who were as strongly attached to it as it was possible to be, felt it to be his duty to sacrifice personal feeling to the attainment of that which they all had in view, namely, the pacification of Ireland.

Mr. Wilks

must say, that this seemed to him to be not only a very liberal and constitutional, but a very humane measure, and he should be most happy to give it his best support.

Motion agreed to. Bill brought in, and read a first time.