HC Deb 17 June 1836 vol 34 cc591-7
Lord J. Russell

moved, that the order of the day be now read for taking into further consideration the Report on this Bill.

Sir George Sinclair

observed, that in the orders of the day the Church of Ireland Bill stood at the very head of the list. Why then was it postponed? The House had now sat four months, and he really did think that a Bill purporting to be one for the relief of the Church of Ireland, one of the most important measures that could possibly be submitted to the House, should long since have been carried to a conclusion. It seemed to him that the conduct of his Majesty's Ministers, now that they were in power, was very different from what it had been when they sat on that (the Opposition) side of the House; for while there a great deal had been said by them about the impossibility of tranquillizing Ireland without a settlement of the question relating to the Church of Ireland: yet week after week, and month after month, was now allowed to elapse without the measure being brought to a conclusion. This he could not reconcile with his ideas of what ought to be a manly, straightforward, and statesmanlike conduct. The only reason, indeed, that he could possibly discover as probably actuating his Majesty's Ministers in the course of proceeding they had adopted, was the fear they must necessarily entertain of the manner in which the appropriation clause of that measure was likely to be received in another place. It appeared to him that they had thought the appropriation clause a very convenient millstone to be launched from their catapulta to break down the rampart which kept them from the Treasury benches, but that they had at last found it a heavy millstone round their own necks. He trusted that some day would be fixed, on which the discussion might really and fairly be entered into, so that it might be ascertained whether the Bill should be carried on or not. The conduct of Ministers was the same as it had been during the former session when they carried the appropriation clause, did nothing whatever in it until June, but brought forward many other questions, although that was the question on which they took office. He would be glad to know from the noble Lord why the question had not been brought forward, and when it was likely to be gone into?

Lord John Russell

The hon. Member who had just sat down had been dreaming away his existence, without paying the least attention to the events of the last few years. The hon. Member had said, that when out of office his Majesty's Ministers had pretended great anxiety to obtain a settlement of the tithe question in Ireland. To that it was almost superfluous in him to reply, that they had really felt, and had not pretended, that anxiety. For his own part, he had felt it for sometime past, and had shown it in 1834, when, as one of the King's Ministers, he had assisted in preparing a Bill for that purpose which had been thrown out by the House of Lords, even though it did not contain any objectionable clause of appropriation. Again, in 1835, Ministers, as soon as they had time to consider this question, had propounded another Bill for the same object, and that Bill too had been thrown out by the House of Lords. Those facts appeared to have escaped the attention of the hon. Member who seemed to be in complete ignorance of the fate of those two bills. He (Lord J. Russell),however, could not exclude the past from his memory, and the consequence was, that he did not entertain the same hopes which he formerly entertained, that the Bill which he had proposed for the settlement of tithes in Ireland would be suffered by the other House to pass into law. With regard to the Bill to be debated that evening, he had only to observe that the Tithe Commutation Bill for England was brought into that House early in February last, that it had since then been frequently discussed, that it was a Bill of great importance, that it was a measure in which the interests of many parties were materially concerned, and that it was one on which he entertained hopes that Parliament would agree, there being no such question involved in it as was involved in the Irish Church Bill. He therefore could not see any reason why this Bill, which was introduced in February last, should be postponed to make way for the Church of Ireland Bill, which was not introduced till a month later. It might perhaps suit the convenience of the hon. Member better to have the Irish Bill discussed that night. Perhaps he had some speech ready cut and dried for that Bill, of which he was anxious to deliver himself. If that were the case, he would make no objection to the hon. Member's delivering it upon the English Tithe Bill, as it would probably be just as appropriate to one Bill as to the other.

The order of the day was read.

Lord John Russell

said, before the Bill was recommitted he wished to make a few remarks to the House. He would remind the House that when this subject was last under consideration, he had stated, that although they had been some time in Committee upon it, still the attendance had not been so numerous, nor had the sense of the House been so fairly taken on the 34th Clause, as to justify him in proposing that the Bill should pass, without affording them an opportunity of pronouncing some more decided judgment upon that particular provision. The effect of that clause was, that if it should be found in certain cases that the amount of tithe paid, or the amount of the composition for tithe, was above seventy-five per cent, on the gross value, it should be reduced to seventy; that, in cases where it fell below sixty, it should be raised to seventy; and that in special and peculiar cases it might be fixed at between sixty and seventy. He had since considered the subject with a view to meet, if possible, the objections of those who had spoken and voted against this clause as one which, in their opinion, would commit a very great injustice against the landowners. The result of that consideration was, that he gave notice of a motion for the recommittal of the Bill, for the purpose of effecting a very considerable change in this enactment. That change would be a modification of this clause, as the former clause was a modification of the 33rd Clause originally proposed. It was essentially necessary that that clause should undergo some modification, because it was evident that in many cases the sum of money taken as composition fell very much below what ought to be taken as its fair amount; and it was represented—with great justice, as be thought—that it would be very unfair if persons who from their own leniency, or other creditable motives, had taken a small amount of composition for a certain period, were to be fixed for ever to that precise amount; while others, who had got as high a rate of composition as they possibly could, were benefitted in proportion to the tenacity with which they had insisted on exacting the utmost farthing. However, so much alarm having been created by the principle he originally proposed to adopt in the 34th Clause, he now-proposed to modify it in a different manner, and to fix a limit, beyond which the tithe should not be varied by the Commissioners. He now proposed that the Commissioners, upon a consideration of the circumstances of the case, should ascertain the gross value of the tithe, and should have the power of raising or diminishing the sum to be paid in future, with this limitation—that they should not raise or diminish it more than one-fifth beyond the amount paid for the last seven years. He proposed, likewise, that the Commissioners should, by the 1st of May next, make a report to his Majesty, which should be laid before Parliament, stating what rules and regulations they thought fit to adopt, according to which this amount—never exceeding the one-fifth—should be estimated. This would the better enable Parliament to decide upon the rule they would lay down, which would naturally be founded partly on the state of the different districts, and partly on the proportion which they should be told the sum taken bore to the actual tithe. He had thought it necessary to give notice that he should propose this clause in lieu of the 35th: at the same time he must express his opinion, that the clause he originally proposed was founded on the principles of justice, and his regret that it had met with so little support when first brought forward. The noble Lord in conclusion moved, that the Bill be recommitted.

Mr. Goulburn

did not know whether the noble Lord would prefer, that he should enter into the question now or in Committee; but in his opinion the alteration now proposed was so completely a substitution of one principle for another, that he did not conceive himself, or any other hon. Member, called upon to enter into the merits of the proposition without time for consideration. The proposition appeared to him to contain an entirely new principle. The noble Lord said, that tithe should in future be rated upon the average of the last seven years; but, said he, that would operate unjustly—it would be a tax on the liberal and a premium to the illiberal. He agreed with the noble Lord on this. The Bill, however, already provided against this objection, by specifying a sum which might be supposed to meet the exigences of every case; but the noble Lord now abandoned that principle in his subsidiary clause. He proposed, that the composition should be estimated from the actual value of the tithe, yet he now went back to the contrary principle, and actually did that which he proposed to avoid, encouraging the illiberal and taxing the liberal. This mode of proceeding overlooked entirely the value of the tithe, and went only upon the amount actually received by the incumbent. This he conceived to be a very great variation from the avowed principle. Indeed, the noble Lord himself seemed to be sensible of the inconvenience it might occasion, and to distrust the operation of the clause he was about to introduce, for he proposed to call on the Commissioners to report the rules and principles upon which they proposed to make the additions or deductions. He confessed, that he could not see how the Commissioners could possibly make such a report. The subject-matter of it must depend upon the knowledge the Commissioners might have of the nature of the agreements for composition in individual cases, and they could have no better means of judging than the noble Lord himself or the House. The noble Lord said, that the arrangement was necessary, because persons had entered into compositions with the existing incumbents, on the faith of which they had commenced a course of improvements. This he could understand as a reason why existing engagements should not be interfered with; but it must be remembered that a party making such an agreement would make it for a definite period, either for the life of the incumbent or for a certain number of years, and that it, would be most unjust to make that which was originally the basis of a temporary arrangement the foundation for a permanent one. He begged not to be understood as either supporting or opposing the clause; but if the noble Lord did not afford the country time to consider it he would not be doing justice to his own measure, to the landowner, the tithe-owner, or to any of the interests involved in its operation.

Sir Robert Inglis

said, that if he understood the plan of the noble Lord correctly, it was quite contrary to the principle on which he had previously proposed to act, that was, to take the past receipts as the basis of future payments. Now, on the contrary, the noble Lord proposed to take the gross amount of the tithe, and to reduce them on another scale. He thought that they should have a valuation of the entire tithe-property of England, as the right hon. Member for Cumberland proposed, until which time the noble Lord could scarcely have a clear idea of the subject. When that was done it would be quite time enough for the hon. Member for Southwark to move its appropriation according to his sense of justice and propriety. For his (Sir It. Inglis's) part, he thought it should be kept as much as possible in the hands of its present owners, and especially not be given up as a bonus to the landowners.

The House went into a Committee on the Bill.

The clause proposed to be substituted for the 35th having been read,

Mr. Hodges

suggested, that as the clause involved matters of a complicated nature it would be much better to postpone the consideration of it until it had been printed. He recommended that the debate on it should be postponed.

Mr. Goulburn

was quite incapable of discussing the clause with anything like satisfaction to himself till he had seen it in print, and had had time to consider the probable effect of it.

Mr. Shaw Lefevre

thought, that the adoption of this clause would be a decided improvement of the Bill, and would materially assist the working of it. He felt obliged to the noble Lord for adopting it. He did not see the necessity for postponing the discussion of it, as there could be no objection to adopting it.

Mr. Ayshford Sanford

approved of the principle of the clause, because it gave a greater discretionary power to the Commissioners.

Mr. Goulburn

observed, that it was probable that the hon. Member for Hampshire (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) had seen the clause, as he had expressed so strong an opinion in favour of it; but this was not the case with the rest of the Committee. He once more suggested the necessity of putting the Committee in possession of the clause with which they had to deal. He could not conceive that his propo- sition would be regarded as unreasonable.

Mr. Blamire

said, that he did not perceive that there was any difficulty in understanding the clause, although he had not seen it. He thought that it was highly advantageous that it had been brought forward. By means of it they would be enabled to guard against much injustice, which otherwise would have been inflicted.

Viscount Ebrington

hoped the clause would be agreed to. Hon. Members could state any objection to it on bringing up the Report.

Mr. Estcourt

objected to the clause being inserted in the Bill without the fullest discussion.

Mr. Benett

had no objection to give large powers to the Commissioners. Indeed, he thought the clause did not go far enough in this respect, for there were many cases in which the Commissioners ought to have the power of lowering the commutation beyond the twenty per cent. Although most anxious for the disposal of this Bill, which he considered as calculated to do much good in the country, he certainly thought this clause ought to be maturely considered before it was adopted.

Mr. Cayley

looked upon the clause as a great improvement.

Clause agreed to.

The House resumed.