HC Deb 02 May 1836 vol 33 cc501-11

On the question that the Speaker do leave the Chair,

Sir George Sinclair

observed, that there were two problems connected with this Bill, of which he should be glad to receive a solution from his Majesty's Ministers. He wished, in the first place, to know whether they intended to introduce into its provisions a clause for appropriating the surplus revenues of the Church of England, beyond what was necessary for pastoral superintendence, to secular purposes. The Churches of England and Ireland were brought into a state of intimate and indissoluble connexion by the treaty of Union, and if once a graduated scale of clerical income, and a maximum of clerical emolument, were carried in the one case, it could not fail to be introduced in the other. To apply a different rule to the two Churches, was an act of grievous injustice towards the Protestants of Ireland, and a violation of the promise held out to them at the period of this Union. In order to insure the success of that compact it was necessary to hold out certain advantages to each of the great parties into which Ireland was divided. To the Roman Catholics it was represented, that as they constituted a majority of the Irish population, it would be incompatible with the security of Protestantism to give them eligibility in a separate Irish legislature, where their numerical preponderance would enable them to overthrow the Protestant Church; but that, if they agreed to the Union, they would form a minority of the aggregate population in the two countries, and might, with less danger to the Constitution, be rendered eligible to the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The Protestants, on the other hand, were reminded, that they formed a small minority in Ireland, and" that their Church would be constantly exposed to the assaults of active, powerful, and implacable enemies; but that, if the Union took place, the two Establishments would be consolidated into one, and the Irish Church would derive the full benefit of security and protection from becoming amalgamated and identified with the Church of England. It seems, however, that his Majesty's Ministers pay no regard to such considerations; they altogether separate the two Churches in their legislative enactments; they truckle to the English branch of the Church because it is powerful—they trample upon the Irish branch because it is weak. They leave the Roman Catholics in full possession of the civil privileges which they were led to expect as a consequence of the Union, but they deprive the Protestants of the chief benefit which they anticipated from the same enactment. He wished, in the next place, to be informed, why the Bill regarding English tithes had obtained priority of the measure which was intended to settle the same question in Ireland? Surely, the latter object was the first in urgency, without being inferior in importance. One might infer, from the arrangement adopted, that England was in a state of ferment on the subject of tithes —that the time of the English Court of Exchequer was engrossed day after day by the issue of writs of rebellion—that you seldom took up an English newspaper without learning that some clergyman or tithe—proctor had been waylaid or assassinated—that public meetings had been held at Belturbet and all the principal cities in Ireland for the relief of the suffering English Ministers of the Gospel, and that the Archbishop of Canterbury's chief employment was, to express his gratitude, and that of the Clergy over which he so worthily presides, for the liberal contributions of their prosperous and unmolested brethren in Ireland. We know that circumstances are exactly reversed. The Church of Ireland is like a house actually on fire, ardet Ucalegon, and his Majesty's Ministers, the official firemen of the state, hurry helter-skelter with their buckets and engines to drench with superfluous water an adjoining building, which the flames have not yet reached, and leave the burning edifice to its fate. It is true that they have at last produced an Irish Tithe Bill; they have screwed their courage to the sticking point, after putting off the evil day as long as it could decently be postponed. But clogged as it is with its most obnoxious provision in a still more objectionable form, they know that it can never be sanctioned by the House of Lords, and they quail before the prospect of the fate which awaits it there. If they had intended to act a manly and resolute part, the Irish Tithe Bill would have been brought forward at the earliest period of the present Session, and sent up with as little delay as possible to another place. If its doom was then sealed by the consistent intrepidity of the House of Lords, they might have said to the Royal Master whom they have the honour to serve, "Sir, we are convinced, and we have frequently declared in public, that the immediate settlement of the tithe question is essential to the well-being of Ireland, and to the safety of the Protestant Clergy. We cannot abandon the Appropriation Clause, without sinking to the very nadir of political meanness and degradation; and as the adjustment admits of no delay, we must either obtain leave from your Majesty to create an adequate number of Peers for carrying our Tithe Bill through the House of Lords, or we must resign our places to other advisers, who may try to adjust the question upon a different basis." This would, in his opinion, have been an honest and straightforward course—whilst that of his Majesty's Ministers had been evasive and equivocal. These are not times for sanctioning half-measures, or paltering with great principles, and he was persuaded, that the policy of his Majesty's Ministers on this subject would be reprobated throughout the country.

Mr. Parrott

wished to address a few-words to the House. It did appear to him that they were about to legislate upon this question without sufficient information upon it; and therefore, as it also appeared to him, they were firing a random shot. He hoped, however, that the noble Lord would allow a Commission to inquire into the state of tithes, and the practice in reference thereto, in different counties; and that they should get such ample information as they had in the case of the Poor Law Bill. Without this the House would only legislate in the dark. This Bill, if passed into a law, would inflict grievous injury on the payers of tithes, and therefore he would suggest to the noble Lord (though he would not divide the House upon it) the propriety of delaying this measure, if he should be satisfied that such was the feeling of the majority of the House. He was satisfied that if this Bill were carried into effect in the way proposed, it would raise the value of tithes from twenty to thirty per cent. more than they were at present. He believed that in Cornwall and other counties this would be the result; and he felt bound to tell the noble Lord, that if he raised the value of tithes beyond their present amount, it would be considered a most serious injury to the country. He felt equally bound to tell the noble Lord, that in the county with which he was connected the people were all in a ferment. He had himself presented forty-seven petitions against the Bill from different parishes in Devonshire, and this must show the state of feeling in that country. If the noble Lord persisted in this measure, he would drive every Whig in Devonshire and Cornwall from him.

Mr. Chichester

said, that in the north of Devonshire there was a strong wish to see this question settled. If the House delayed this measure till another Session, they would find themselves in the same predicament as they had been placed in with reference to Irish tithes.

Mr. Hume

had stated on a former occasion the objection which he saw to the measure, and which objection he had urged upon the noble Lord, and it was this, that owing to the existence of the corn-laws the value of land in this country had acquired an unnatural height. The more he considered this matter the more convinced was he that there could be no fair settlement of the tithe question until the corn-laws should be abolished.

Mr. Blamire

thought that the hon. Member for Middlesex had not applied himself to the proposition of the noble Lord, to fix the commutation with an average price of corn for seven years. Therefore the corn-laws had nothing to do with the question. In the year 1771 a parish with which he was unacquainted commuted their tithes for a fixed corn rent; and the Vicar in that parish now received only 2l. more than was paid to the Vicar in, 1771; the price of wheat having been then taken at 4s. 6d. the Winchester bushel, and the average taken this year was only 14s.d.

The House went into a Committee on the first clause.

Lord John Russell

thought it would be better to go through the clauses regularly; and the Committee would then be able to judge more correctly of the measure as a whole. He wished the Committee to take the Bill clause by clause. With respect to any alterations, he had only to say, that if the proposals which had been made by the Member for Somersetshire should be rejected he would afterwards introduce clauses to meet special cases which had been submitted for consideration, such as giving the discretionary power to the Commissioners to value the tithe at from fifty to sixty per cent of the estimated value.

Mr. Pemberton

was quite sure that any hon. Gentleman who compared this Bill as it then stood with what it was when it last left the Committee, would find that it differed materially from its former self. He believed that, from the first clause to the last, there was not a single one which remained unaltered—there was not a single portion of the machinery which had not been changed. He did not think it reasonable to suppose that hon. Gentlemen who were not lawyers should compare the Bill clause by clause; but it was not unreasonable to suppose that those who had voted for the second reading of the Bill should, when their attention was drawn to the fact, be ready to examine the alterations which had been made. In the Bill as it had passed the Committee, commutation was to have been either by agreement between the tithe owner and the landowner, or by compulsion when they could not agree. If compulsion were introduced, that compulsion ought to be general, or the whole arrangement ought to be purely voluntary. On the former occasion, the Solicitor-General had dissented from every point he (Mr. Pemberton) had urged and from every argument he had used; but it seemed that the hon. and learned Member did not possess the confidence of Ministers so much as himself, because the very principle then denounced as obnoxious had now found its way into the Bill. Compulsion was now generally adopted. [Lord John Russell— I so stated.] He admitted it, but the Solicitor-General had argued against it. In fact, the measure was so little the same, that the supporters of Government were now called upon to vote for the very measure which on a former night they had repudiated. The provision relating to indi- vidual agreements had been entirely abandoned. As the measure now stood, the apportionment of tithe was to be made with reference to a principle not very distinctly expressed—the rate of the value of produce, which left the matter in a state of uncertainty. There was also this anomaly in the proposed Bill. It imposed a higher rate of commutation with respect to all lands on which hops were now grown, and it did not provide if this crop should be discontinued for a proportionably diminished payment in lieu of tithes; but it stated, that there should not be any higher charge levied on those lands which though not at present under hop-cultivation, might hereafter be subjected to that kind of tillage. Now, if it were just that no diminished charge should be made when hops ceased to be cultivated, it was equally just that upon lands being brought into a more profitable cultivation they should become liable to a higher rate of commutation. By the first Bill the Commissioners were made an independent body, because, though they were appointed by different authorities, they could not be removed without the consent of both. But by this Bill the Crown had the power of removing the Commissioners appointed by it, and the Archbishop of Canterbury was invested with the same right. There were again changes made in the Bill with regard to the distribution of patronage. By the measure as it originally stood, the Commissioners had the appointment of Secretaries and Assistant Commissioners; but in its present shape, the Bill transferred the power of nomination to these important offices from the Commissioners to the Secretary of State. Now it would appear, with respect to the principle on which the compulsion was to be carried into operation, in the machinery by which the commutation was to be effected, as well as the individuals who were to have the management of that machinery, in every point, both in the principle and details of the measure, as it was originally brought forward, the most extensive alterations had been made. He did not complain of the rate at which it was proposed that the commutation should be effected. On the contrary, he considered it perfectly fair, and that the Government acted with great justice when they determined upon it; but he could not help regretting that this measure did not embrace some scheme of the nature of that which the noble Lord, the Secretary of State promised to bring forward at some future time—he meant a plan for the absolute redemption of tithes. However desirable it might be to have the present Bill carried, he was of opinion that it could never be satisfactory until absolute redemption of tithes was established for the commutation which it was now sought to establish.

Lord John Russell

could not understand the meaning of the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down, unless it was intended to convey a reproach against the Government of having taken advantage of the suggestions of many hon. Members in order to improve the Bill then under consideration. If such were the intention of the hon. and learned Gentleman, all he could say was, that the Government never desired to arrogate the vain credit of having produced a Bill which required no alteration, and which was at once perfect for the object it was meant to answer, but their wish was to frame such a measure as would work favourably and satisfactorily for the country. Therefore, whether they had the credit of proposing the clauses of this measure originally, or whether they had adopted the clauses and recommendations which were suggested by others, they had pursued a course which was equally conducive to their purpose; and he was ready to take the shame, if it were a shame, of having yielded to the hon. and learned Gentleman, by embodying one of those alterations which the hon. and learned Gentleman had proposed, and which he agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman in thinking was a good and useful one. He did not think there would be any advantage whatever in arguing in favour of the propriety of retaining certain clauses, by laying it down as a principle that, no matter what provisions were introduced into the measure by the Government, no matter how mischievous they might be proved to be, they were still determined to persist in them. There was scarcely one of the alterations which the hon. and learned Gentleman had commented upon that he had not given notice of proposing. He would refer to one or two of them. With respect to individual agreements, that was looked upon by him as a question the settlement of which was left open for consideration; and with respect to the mode of effecting a compulsory agreement, he stated, in answer to the hon. Member for the University of Cambridge, that the provision giving individuals the power of en- forcing a compulsory agreement as to their own particular property, was one of the propriety of which he was the least confident. He did not see what more he could have said to indicate his intention of accepting such an alteration as that which was eventually made. The hon. and learned Gentleman had also noticed the alteration in this Bill by which it was intended that the Crown should have the power of removing the two Commissioners nominated by it, and that the Archbishop of Canterbury should have the same power as to the removal of the Commissioner appointed by him. Now, on reading the first clause of the former Bill, he said that he did not then mean to propose such an alteration as that which was made in this respect in the amended Bill, but he did not hesitate to express his preference of the clause contained in the Bill of the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth. The noble Lord concluded by expressing a hope that the House would not for the future consider the Government deserving of obloquy because they were willing to adopt suggestions enforced by such able arguments as those which the hon. and learned Gentleman had used.

Mr. Charles Buller

said, that it was with great regret that he had allowed the Bill, without opposition, to go into Committee at all, because he was so opposed to the principle on which the Bill was founded, that it appeared to him a mere waste of the time of the House to sanction the Bill in any shape whatever. However, as it was the duty of every Member to make the Bill as perfect as possible, he should object to the first clause. It was objectionable to intrust the appointment of one Commissioner to the Archbishop of Canterbury as reputed head of the Church. The King was the real head of the Church, and should have the appointment. Besides, the Archbishop was not a responsible person, as the Ministers of the King were. Another objection was, that the landowners were not represented in the Commission. The Church had a protection in the Archbishop's Commissioner, but the lay impropriators, a large body, had none.

Mr. Hume

thought the objections urged by his hon. Friend, the Member for Liskeard, were quite apposite, and he was of opinion that they were worthy the attention of the noble Lord on the Treasury bench.

Clause agreed to, as were the clauses up to the 11th inclusive.

On clause 12th,

Sir Matthew White Ridley

said, that according to the wording of this clause, he was afraid that the Bill, which he believed it was honestly intended should refer to every species of tithe, would not include all small tithes, or personal tithes. He hoped, therefore, that the noble Lord would introduce an amendment which would have the effect of including small tithes.

Mr. Thomas Duncombe

hoped the hon. Baronet would persevere in his intention, for he confessed he found it difficult to understand clearly the extent to which the Bill before the House went. They had never yet had a fair discussion of the principle of the Bill, and he would defy any hon. Gentleman to say what was the general feeling of the House upon it. Persons out of the House asked him if he was aware what sort of a measure they were about to give their sanction to, and characterized it as a most advantageous one for the tithe-owners, for by its means one-fifth of every man's property would go into the hands of the great lay and ecclesiastical impropriators. The principle of the Bill was altogether lost sight of. It left vicarial tithes untouched, and small and personal tithes, such as pressed most heavily upon the poor man, were not brought, as it appeared to him, under its provisions. It was not calculated to fulfil the intention of restoring harmony and allaying heartburnings throughout the country, and he trusted the hon. Baronet would move a specific amendment upon the clause under discussion.

The Solicitor-General

did not consider the Bill was so framed as to merit such strong language on the part of the hon. Member for Finsbury. He maintained that it did get rid of vicarial tithes, and of all small tithes, with the exception of some personal and mixed tithes, and those on fish. If it did not get rid of those particular tithes, it was because a measure like the present was considered inapplicable to them. He had himself a personal experience of the onerous nature of tithes upon fish, derived from the place which he had the honour of representing. But tithes of such a description could not evidently be affected by a measure commuting tithes into a rent-charge.

Mr. Benett

said, it was an undoubted fact that tithes taken in kind, did, on an average, amount to one-fifth part of the property from which they were to be deducted.

Sir Robert H. Inglis

agreed with the hon. Member for Finsbury that the principle of the Bill required to be debated still. He was one of those who thought the ex- isting system in regard to tithes was much better than any other which could be substituted in its place; and, with that conviction strong in his mind, he should take the earliest opportunity of affording the House means of coming to a decision on the proposition. The right of tithes was anterior to any other in the country; and every landholder in the kingdom held his land upon the terms of paying a certain portion of the value to another person. It was a short-sighted policy of the landholder to set himself in opposition to the Church, or to wish to deprive it of any portion of its rights or property for his own advantage; it was a short-sighted policy, for it afforded a precedent which might be applied to himself on a future occasion.

Mr. Gilbert Heathcote

suggested, that as the understanding at the onset was that the Bill should be permitted to pass through Committee without obstruction, it would be quite as well to defer all debate on it until another opportunity should be afforded.

Mr. Estcourt

proposed the addition of the words "all uncommuted tithes," after the words "hereinafter mentioned."

Sir Robert Peel

said, that in lines 36 and 37 the word "tithes" was defined to mean and include all uncommuted tithes, portions, and parcels of tithes, and all moduses, compositions, real, prescriptive, and customary payments." Now, there were many parishes entirely covered by moduses, and as the Bill as it stood would affect this species of composition as well as all others, he wished to know if it was so intended, or if the moduses which existed were to be left untouched? If they were to be disturbed he considered it would be unjust.

Viscount Howick

referred the right hon. Baronet to the 36th clause of the Bill for the information he required. He would then, find all cases involving moduses, and prescriptive and customary payments, provided for.

Sir Robert Peel

had already referred to that clause previous to putting the question, but he could find no satisfactory solution of the difficulty. He suggested, that to meet it the words "provided all moduses, or prescriptive and customary payments, should not be disturbed," should be added to the clause.

Amendment withdrawn, and clause agreed to. The remainder of the clauses were agreed to, with amendments.

The House resumed—Committee to sit again.