HC Deb 12 August 1836 vol 35 cc1200-8

On the Order of the Day being read for going into Committee on the Tithe Composition (Ireland) Bill,

Mr. Leader

I feel bound to oppose this measure, first, on principle, because I consider that all the money advanced ought to he repaid; and next, on points of detail, for, if we cannot get back all the money, we certainly ought to get more than is proposed by the Bill. I trust, therefore, that the House will grant me a hearing for a very few minutes, while I call their attention to the return relating to the million loan. Not many weeks past a return was printed for the use of Members, stating the manner in which the million, voted for the relief of the Irish clergy, had been appropriated. On looking through it I was surprised to see some names which I little expected to find there. This induced me to examine the return minutely in detail. The result of that examination snowed, that out of 635,000l., the total amount advanced out of the public purse for arrears of tithe, 393,000l. had been advanced to 763 incumbents of parishes, making on an average more than 500l. each; 176,000l. had been advanced to 375 laymen, who were tithe-owners, making rather less than 500l. each; and 65,000l. had been advanced to sixty-one dignitaries of the Church, making on an average more than 1,000l. each. Having thus stated generally to what class of persons, and in what proportions, this money has been advanced, I must now request hon. Members to call to mind what occurred in this House when the grant of this million was proposed and voted. Though I was not a Member of the House at that period, I remember the impression on the public mind out of the House; and I have also collected from persons who then were Members, and, above all, I have found in the debates on the subject, what was the actual feeling and the real intention of the House when they voted that a million should be advanced out of the public purse for the relief of the tithe-owners in Ireland, who had not been able by ordinary means to obtain payment of their tithes. The general impression on the minds of the Members of this House seems to have been, that the million was to be advanced for the relief of the clergy of the Irish Protestant Church, because they were in so wretched a plight that they could not live without relief of this sort. The House was informed, in accents of the most pathetic commiseration, that the Protestant clergy in Ireland were in a state bordering on starvation—that they had not money enough to procure the common necessaries of life; as to luxuries, they had long since forgotten that such things were to be attained; that their children were compelled to work as common menials, digging potatoes for their wretched subsistence; that they were, in short, so many Established Church martyrs, in a state too miserable, too squalid, too terrible for human nature to endure, or even to contemplate; and that, unless immediate relief were granted to them, these intellectual, highly-educated men—the pillars of the Protestant Church in Ireland—must, most of them, perish amidst intolerable suf- ferings. All this misery, we were told, arose from the difficulty, the almost impossibility, of collecting tithe; and that, as in many cases, no tithe had been paid for two or three years, those of the clergy who depended solely on their tithe were reduced to a most destitute condition. Such was the picture of the Irish Protestant clergy presented to this House: such was the appeal made to the feelings and the sympathies of Members of Parliament by their suffering fellow-citizens. Can we wonder, then, that, setting aside for a moment all considerations of sound policy, unheeding the voice of reason, they should have suffered themselves to be led away by their feelings of pity—by their generous sympathy with the starving ministers of the Protestant Church, and that, urged on by the promptings of charity, they should have granted immediate relief, from the public purse, in order to alleviate such misery? No; they yielded to their pity for the poor starving clergy, and they voted the million. That this statement fairly represents the case, and the reasons which induced hon. Members to vote for the grant of this million, can be clearly proved from the debates on the subject. The right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, said, "that in the present destitute condition of the clergy he could not withhold his assent." The hon. Baronet, the Member for the University of Oxford said, "He was prepared to sacrifice everything but principle, in order to afford relief to the clergy in their present unfortunate condition."—The then Chancellor of the Exchequer said, "that the money was for the relief of the clergy, and would be repaid by the clergy." The noble Lord, who is at present Member for Stroud, held the same language. Now, having thus shown the grounds on which the House consented to advance a million, for the relief, namely, of the starving Protestant clergy in Ireland, let us go back for a few moments to the return stating the manner in which the million has been appropriated. There are in the list sixty-one dignitaries of the Irish Church, receiving out of that fund 65,000l. Amongst them there is the hon. and very Rev. Joseph Bourke; he received more than 2,590l. as incumbent, and 1,700l. as lessee, making altogether more than 4,200l.; the Archbishop of Cashel received 2,060l.; the very Rev. Lord E. Chichester, 2,200l..; the Bishop of Clonfert, 1,200l.; the Bishop of Cloyne, 3,200l.; the Bishop of Ferns, 2,100l.; the very Rev. T. Gough, 3,400l.; the Bishop of Kildare, 1,800l. the hon. and venerable H. Stop-ford, 2,400l.; and the hon. and venerable C. le Poer Trench, 1,800l. Are these the poor miserable starving creatures in whose behalf the feelings of this House and the sympathies of the people were appealed to—not in vain? Again, in the list there are 375 laymen, receiving out of the fund 176,000l. I will mention a few of the names in the return. I cannot, of course, have any personal feeling against them; and when I mention the names no man will be able to accuse me of having shown any party predilection in the choice of persons. John Aylmer, Esq., of Caernarvon, North Wales, received 1,400l.; W. J. Bourke, Esq., 2,500l.; J. Callaghan, Esq., 2,100l.; Lord Carew, 1,000l.; C. Delmege, Esq., 2,900l.; Countess Disart, 240l.; Lord de Vesey and the hon. T. Vesey, 1,000l.; the Duke of Devonshire, 3,400l.; Lord Dillon, 200l.; the Earl of Donoughmore, 320l.; the Marquess of Downshire, 2,600l.; the Earl of Essex, 80l.; the hon. Baron Foster, 500l.; Sir F. H. Goodricke, 300l.; the Marquess of Head-fort, 118l.; Lord Lismore, 500l.; the Earl of Norbury, 280l.; the Marquess of Ormonde, 2,400l.; the Earl of Shannon, 280l.; Lord Southwell, 35l.; Caesar Sutton, Esq., 2,100l.; D. Thompson, Esq., 2,700l.; R. Weldon, Esq., 2,200l.; and the Marquess of Westmeath, 750l. Now, I do not accuse one of the persons whose names I have enumerated of having acted improperly in taking their portion out of the million; by the Act they had a clear legal right to demand the money which was advanced to them, though by the 10th section of the Act there is a discretionary power in the Irish Privy Council, as to the payments to be made on applications; but I do ask hon. Members, whether it was the impression—whether it was the desire—whether it was the intention of the House that the money should be so applied? The letter of the Act undoubtedly empowered laymen who possessed tithes and dignitaries of the Church (being incumbents), whether rich or poor, to apply for a portion of the grant; but was that the spirit of the Act? Was not the money really and truly voted by this House for the relief of the poor clergy of the Irish Protestant Church who were represented to be starving—was not the money so voted only or chiefly because they were thought to be starving, and that there were no other means of relieving their misery? If that were the intention of the House, is it not rather surprising that such men should be found profiting by the generosity of the House, and receiving money out of a public grant from the public purse, because the mere letter of the law was in their favour? Will not the people of England be rather disappointed when they find that the money which they thought was to relieve the starving Protestant clergy in Ireland has been, much of it, applied to swell the rent-roll and to increase the vast income of some of the richest men in Great Britain? Will they not be astonished to see noble tithe possessors and great Church dignitaries appearing amongst the claimants for relief, as the fellow-sufferers of the wretched, destitute, and starving Protestant clergy? The noble Lord, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time, was very indignant with an hon. Member who called this measure a "a pious fraud." It must be confessed that the result has shown that the term was not altogether misapplied; for it certainly does appear as if the grant had been obtained from this House under something like "false pretences." Some hon. Members, indeed, declared at the time, without any attempt at concealment or circumlocution, that the money would go to the tithe-owners generally, and would never be repaid; and the hon. Member for Kilkenny even added as a reason that if the people of England were determined to uphold, in defiance of the opposition of the Irish people, an un-reformed Protestant Church Establishment in Ireland like the present, they were bound in justice and in common honesty to pay for it. That case is now altered; for the people of England have declared in favour of reforming the Church Establishment in Ireland—the House of Commons has passed more than one Bill to that effect; and the determination to keep the Church Establishment in Ireland without effectual and adequate reform is now maintained by the majority of a certain irresponsible assembly, which holds its meetings not far from this place, in opposition to this House and to the people of this country. Let the people, therefore, now bear in mind that the loss of this million has been entailed upon them, and that much greater loss and trouble will probably be brought upon them by the opposition to reform so obstinately pursued by the majority of that assembly. Having now shown on what grounds the million was advanced to the titheowners of Ireland —having shown, also, the manner in which it has been appropriated—I wish now to ask the Ministers whether they have really and ultimately determined to insist upon the passing of this Bill, and thereby to remit the payment of the debt to the public incurred by those who have received a portion of the grant, with the trifling exception mentioned in the Bill? If they do so remit the payment, they will be acting in direct violation of the promise made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer (the present Lord Spencer), that the money should certainly be repaid by those to whom it was advanced. In common justice—in common honesty—in accordance with a solemn pledge, the money ought to be repaid. I do not say this year, or next year, or within a short time: let the amount be paid by instalments—spread (if you please) over a long period—say ten or fifteen years; but unless a pledge given to the House and to the public be disregarded as of no weight and of no value, this money must be repaid. It may be said that this sum was advanced to the Irish tithe owners to induce them to give up all law proceedings against defaulters in tithe paying, and thereby to prevent civil war: for the House was told by Mr. Littleton (the present Lord Hatherton), that unless some measure of this description was passed, a civil war must rage in Ireland from one end of the country to the other. Well, say, then, that in order to prevent bloodshed, violence, and anarchy—to avoid a sanguinary tithe campaign—the House advanced the million. Now look to Ireland, and say what has been gained. You have paid your million—has it bought peace for Ireland? Your money is gone; but is the cause of your loss—is the evil also gone? No. You are now in as bad a position as you were three years past when you voted the million—you are even worse off, for you are now in a false position—you have given a million as a premium on resistance to law—a bad one, but still a law; instead of altering the law, instead of boldly grappling with the cause of the evil, a temporising policy was adopted, and now the tithe-war rages more fiercely than ever. If a man refuse to pay tithe, he is exchequered by his spiritual friend the Protestant parson—if he pay tithe, he runs the risk of being shot by some of his temporal friends, who have vowed never to pay tithe nor suffer tithe to be paid. A pleasant dilemma! There is another consequence of the forced maintenance of the Established Church in Ireland; but I will not further pursue this most painful topic. I had two objects in troubling the House this evening: one, to call their attention to the return respecting the million; the other, to urge on the Ministers and on the House the absolute necessity, in compliance with good faith, of not pressing the adoption of this Bill, and thereby abandoning the repayment of the million in all but a few cases. In 1833 Mr. Littleton said, "that under all circumstances the public would have as good security as it was possible to give them for the repayment of the money;" and the noble Lord, the Member for North Devon, declared, "that he trusted the spirit of liberality with which this was now granted by the people of England would be met by a corresponding spirit of liberality on the part of the Irish landlords and the people of Ireland, and that the people of this country would not ultimately have to complain of a want of good faith with respect to the repayment of this loan." The case then stands thus—the million was obtained for the relief of the starving clergy in Ireland, but a large portion has been paid to lay tithe-owners and to rich dignitaries of the Church—it was advanced as a loan, but it is sought now to convert it into a gift—it was to pacify Ireland and to put a stop to the tithe-war; but Ireland is not pacified, and the tithe-war rages as before—it was a sort of set-off against the appropriation clause—a very dear purchase by the way, for a certain assembly will rather perish than pass the appropriation clause. This being the case, I again ask the Government to reconsider their determination to remit the repayment of this money, for which they have got absolutely nothing in return. Now, I trust that hon. Members will not mistake my motive for having urged this subject. It is not merely a desire to effect a saving of a few hundred thousand pounds to the public—it is not that I grudge the money to Ireland, for I would willingly (if just and necessary) join in a much larger vote for the benefit and the relief of that unhappy country, but it is because good faith would be violated by the transaction that I have spoken against it. No man will venture to deny that good faith should, above all things, be observed in all affairs, public as well as private. This money was advanced on the express understanding, and under a distinct pledge, that it should be repaid, and, therefore, without a breach of good faith, this debt to the public cannot be remitted.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

wished to place the real facts of the case before the House, and hoped he should be able to satisfy his hon. Friend that the money had not been diverted from the original purpose of the grant. His noble Friend's (Lord Spencer) intention, when he introduced the Bill, undoubtedly was, that the money should be applied for the relief of the ecclesiastical incumbents in Ireland. His noble Friend, however, had been met by objections from every side of the House, that the measure would be incomplete unless the grant was extended to lay as well as ecclesiastical claimants, and it was in consequence of an amendment forced on Government by the House that this extension took place. No greater misconception could exist than that which pervaded his hon. Friend's remarks, and which had extended to the public out of doors, that the Bill was intended solely, or mainly, as a measure of relief to the tithe-owner. I was intended mainly to give relief to the tithe-payer, because the receipt of this money by the tithe-owner protected the tithe-payer to a certain extent from demands for tithe. It took away from the tithe-owner the right of proceeding against the tithe-payer, and was thus made conducive to the establishment of tranquillity in Ireland. It was not intended by the Act to give relief to certain parties who might be owners of tithe, but to all owners of tithe who complied with the conditions of the Act, who delivered in their schedules, proved that a sum of money was fairly due to them, and that they had not been able to recover it He did not at all complain of the hon. Gentleman's statement on the subject; but base and calumnious delusions were sought to be propagated among the public by selecting certain names from the list, with a view to make it appear that Government had endeavoured to make a job of the grant, and to advance money to their own favourites exclusively. He was aware that there was no hon. Gentleman opposite who would not immediately disavow such a supposition, but out of doors certain parties had attempted to show, with a singular power of misrepresentation, that the supporters of the Administration had been particularly favoured in the distribution of the money, when, in point of fact, Government had no control over the matter. It would be found that among those who had received assistance from the grant, the opponents of the Administration were more numerous than the supporters. The Treasury, he contended, had excercised a just discretion in not proceeding to enforce repayment of the instalments of the loan. It appeared from returns which had been made out, that the tithe payable in 1834 amounted to 325,000l., of which only 119,000l. had been received; in 1835, to 324,000l., of which only 45,000l. had been received or recovered. Under these circumstances, it would have been vain to endeavour to enforce repayment, and such a step would only have excited fresh irritation and renewed disturbances. He would always maintain, however, that it was unjust to remit the repayment of the loan, except in connexion with the settlement of the Irish Church question. It was not proposed by the Bill to remit it, but only to suspend, under certain limitations, the enforcement of the right, until the question of the Irish Church should be settled. The Bill proposed, that the Treasury should have power to enforce repayment where the parties had collected the whole or the greater part of their tithe, where the tithe was held and instalments payable by the landlord, where the lay impropriator was owner of the estate and had received the amount of tithe due to him, in the shape of rent. All that he asked was, that Government should not be made responsible for the rigid enforcement of the demand, and he thought that he was also entitled to ask this for the sake of those of the clergy who had not had recourse to writs of rebellion for the collection of their tithes, and had waited for the decision of the House on the question.

House went into Committee on the Bill; the clauses were agreed to, and the House resumed.