HC Deb 19 May 1835 vol 27 cc1197-9
Mr. Gilbert J. Heathcote

had a Petition to present, to which he would call the particular attention of the House. It related to the subject of Tithes, and contained a complaint against a most respectable Clergyman of the Church of England, for harsh conduct in the mode of enforcing payment of his tithes. It was with much regret that he felt himself called upon, in the performance of a public duty, to impugn the conduct of this Gentleman, who was non-resident. He should, in the few observations he would make, endeavour to discharge his duty in a way least offensive to the feelings of the individual. The petition was that of an individual, John Gibbins, residing in the parish of Long Sutton, in the county of Lincoln. He was a farmer and grazier, a most respectable man, and quite incapable of deceiving him. Before he had presented the petition he had acted with the greatest fairness towards the Clergyman, for he had written to him on the subject, and delayed presenting it till that Gentleman was fully informed of the nature of the petition. The petitioner stated, that his lands lay in five different parishes, in all of which he paid tithe. The boundaries of these parishes were undefined, the consequence of which was, that he was sometimes called upon by one Clergyman to pay tithe which he had previously paid to another. Some differences on the subject of tithe arose between him and the Rev. Mr. Bennet, the vicar of Long Sutton and of another parish, and a correspondence took place between them on the subject. Having read that correspondence, it appeared to him that the petitioner was quite willing to come to some agreement. The petitioner states, that he frequently urged the Vicar to enter into some arrangement, rather than get involved in the expenses and trouble of law proceedings. He refused to do so, however, and continued to harass and annoy the petitioner by all the means which his situation as Vicar placed within his reach, and he lately instituted a suit in Chancery against him. This, as every person acquainted with the Court of Chancery must know, would turn out a costly and most troublesome business to the petitioner. The petitioner prayed the House to alter the present tithe system by the substitution of a just and well-regulated measure of commutation, and also that the boundaries of parishes might be ascertained. This would put an end to that litigation, and those differences which were constantly arising between Clergymen and their parishioners, and which must be highly injurious to the best interests of the Established Church. Something should be done to settle the Tithe Question finally. When so much had been said on the Irish Tithe Question, and so much time expended on it, the House would do well to consider that there were subjects of complaint also in England which demanded their attention.

The petition was brought up:—on the question, that it be laid upon the Table,

Mr. Russell

said, he did not rise for the purpose of impeaching the petition; but as it contained very serious allegations against a most respectable Clergyman, he felt it is duty to make a few observations upon it, and to give to the petition the short answer to its allegations which he had received from the Clergyman himself. He was not only the Vicar of this parish, but the lay impropriator of the tithes. They were his hereditary property, his fee-simple estate. It was not from any feeling of personal hostility to the petitioner, but for the purpose of protecting his just rights, that he instituted proceedings at law against him at the recommendation of his law adviser. As the matter was now depending in a Court of Justice it was not quite fair on the part of his opponent to present a petition, which might prejudice a cause now in a course of legal investigation, The Rev, Mr. Bennet, in his answer, stated that the allegations of the petition were at variance with the truth; that the lands occupied by the petitioner are wholly within the same parish; that he, at different times, accepted receipts for the payment of his tithes, purporting that the lands occupied by him were all within the parish of Sutton; that Mr. Bennet never insisted upon having his tithes in kind. On the contrary, in March, 1833, and since that time, the petitioner said he would pay them in kind, though he well knew that the Vicar had neither house nor yard in which he could conveniently receive them. This the petitioner insisted upon doing, though he paid for tithe only five shillings an acre, which was not one-fourth of what he in justice ought to pay. The Clergyman stated, that being unable to come to any amicable arrangement, he was obliged to place the matter in the hands of his solicitor. The gravamen of the petition was, that the Vicar insisted upon getting his tithes in kind, though in two instances the petitioner himself was the person who insisted on paying them in kind, well knowing that there was no convenience for receiving them. The litigation of Clergymen with their parishioners was a matter very much to be regretted, but when their just claims were resisted, as in the present case, they had no other remedy but to go to law. He was not in the slightest degree acquainted with either of the parties, but he considered it his duty to do an act of justice to this Clergyman when his character was thus attacked. He would do the same for any Clergyman similarly circumstanced. Mr. Bennet he had reason to know was distinguished for his liberality and in ninety-nine cases out of an hundred was content with less than he was justly entitled to.

Petition to lie on the Table.