HC Deb 27 March 1838 vol 41 cc1313-20
Lord John Russell

I beg to ask the right hon. Gentleman opposite, with a view to the arrangement of the business of the House, to furnish me with an answer to the question which I took the liberty of putting on Friday, as to whether it be the intention of the noble Member for Lancashire, as on former occasions, or whether it be the intention of any other Member on the opposite side of the House, to move an instruction to the Committee on the Irish Municipal Corporations Bill, authorising the total abolition of the Irish Municipal Corporations.

Sir Robert Peel

Sir, as I have been for some years past rather in the habit of administering than answering questions, the noble Lord will not be surprised that I am desirous, for a few moments, of assuming the position which is somewhat more familiar to me, that of putting a question to the noble Lord. I do not this merely for the purpose of taking a lesson from the more practical experience of the noble Lord in answering questions, but because the answer which the noble Lord may give to my question may be important, and may enable me to give a more definite and satisfactory answer to the question which he has put to me, and to which I have promised to reply. The question which I wish to put to the noble Lord is, what course it is the intention of her Majesty's Government to pursue with respect to the Irish Tithe Bill and the interest of the Irish Church? It is now considerably more than four months since the attention of Parliament was formally directed to this question. In the month of November last year, on the meeting of Parliament, her Majesty directed the attention of the House of Commons and of the House of Lords to three questions relating to the domestic policy of Ireland. First, to the expediency of making a provision for the poor of Ireland, by means of a compulsory enactment of Poor-laws; secondly, to the necessity of effecting, some reform in the municipal corporations of Ireland; and, thirdly, her Majesty expressed a strong opinion, that it was very desirable to make an alteration in the law which regulated the collection of Irish tithes. To that speech the House responded, by assuring her Majesty, in an address to which we unanimously agreed, first, that "we should deem it our duty to consult whether it might not be safe and wise to establish by law some well-regulated means of relief for the destitute of Ireland;" secondly, that "we were very sensible that the municipal Government of the cities and towns in Ireland called for better regulation;" and thirdly, that "we entirely agreed with her Majesty that the laws which governed the collection of the tithe composition in Ireland required revision and amendment." We also assured her Majesty, that "we were deeply sensible of the importance of those questions which her Majesty had committed to us, and of the necessity of treating them in that spirit of impartiality and justice which afforded the best hope of bringing them to a happy and useful termination." Now, as more than four months have elapsed since that speech was delivered, and as it has been hitherto the uniform custom that her Majesty's Ministers have not advised their Sovereign to introduce in the speech from the throne matters with respect to which their minds were not made up and the measures prepared, I conclude I may assume that her Majesty's Government have made up their minds with respect to the tithe measure for Ireland, and that when that address was voted they were determined at least as to what they would propose as the principle of the measure. I find entered on the journals of Parliament these resolutions, and they may be considered as still being in force. ["Question!"] I did not seek this. The position in which I am placed is rather an unusual one. I am endeavouring to lay the foundation of an answer to the question of the noble Lord. I say I find these resolutions on the journals of the House:— That this House resolve itself into a Committee of the whole House to consider the Temporalities of the Church of Ireland. That it is the opinion of this Committee that any surplus which may remain, after fully providing for the spiritual instruction of the members of the Established Church in Ireland, ought to be applied locally to the general education of all classes of Christians. These resolutions were voted by a former House of Commons at the instance of the noble Lord, who now is the leader of the House, and coupling them with the speech from the Throne, I think myself entitled, after the lapse of four months, to put this question to the noble Lord, whether it is his intention to bring forward any measure with respect to Irish tithes, and whether it will involve the principle contained in these resolutions? Having received an answer from the noble Lord, I will then proceed to the fulfilment of that duty, which, as I said before, is not very familiar to me, but which the answer of the noble Lord will certainly impose on me.

Lord John Russell

The House will see that, as the right hon. Gentleman, in putting his question to me, has gone into some detail, it will be necessary for me to go to a greater length than would otherwise have been requisite in answering him; but, to put myself within the rules of the House, I shall now move, that the House resolve itself into a Committee to take into consideration the question of Irish tithes on a certain day, to be hereafter named. The right hon. Gentleman has stated, that four months have elapsed, and that no measure has been brought forward with respect to Irish tithes. It does appear to me that it is the better course; and the more I consider all that passed last year, the more I am confirmed in that opinion, that the House should give its attention, as much as possible, to certain measures that are brought forward; that we should dispose of those measures in as short a time as we are able, in order to send them to the House of Lords, so that that branch of the Legislature may, from time to time, have them under its consideration; and that we should not be obliged to send to them all our measures at the same time, and thus subject them to the unpleasant necessity either of rejecting them, or of entertaining them when, according to their declarations, there is not sufficient time to give them a separate and due consideration. In illustration of what I have stated, I beg to say, that the first measure recommended by her Majesty to the serious consideration of Parliament, viz., the Poor Relief (Ireland) Bill, has been seriously considered, not only on the second reading, but during ten nights that it has been in the Committee. I do not think, then, it can be said either that the recommendations made by her Majesty to this House have been neglected, or that it would have been wise to interrupt the progress of the Poor-law for Ireland by the introduction of any other. With respect to the question of Irish tithes, it stands in this very peculiar situation—that it has now been, during four years, under the consideration of Parliament. In the year 1834, a bill was sent from this House, and was rejected by the House of Lords. In the year 1835, a bill was sent from this House, and was so altered in its principal provisions, that it was not proceeded with in the House of Lords. In the year 1836, a bill for the same purpose was framed, and having been curtailed of a great number of its provisions—more than half—by the House of Lords, this House rejected the amendments, and, in consequence, no legislative measure on the subject was passed. In the year 1837, another measure was introduced, and, in an early stage of that bill, my noble Friend, the Member for North Lancashire (Lord Stanley), declared, that unless the House agreed with him in altering certain provisions of the bill, he would oppose it on the third reading. I considered that declaration as signifying, that those who took the same view he did of this measure in the House of Lords would be disposed to oppose and reject this bill. Now, Sir, I am quite ready to declare, that I do not think it wise, whether with reference to the interests of legislation, or to the respect due to the different branches of the legislature, or to the interests of the parties concerned, of those who describe themselves, as the exclusive representatives of the Church of Ireland, as well as of those who are the supporters of the measure, that this fruitless contest should be carried on by both Houses of Parliament. Therefore, it is the anxious wish of her Majesty's Government, in proposing a measure relative to tithes during the present year, to propose it on a ground altogether new. Whether that ground will be satisfactory or not, I cannot say, but I hope it may be considered worthy to form the basis of an adjustment, and prevent the ill-consequences of perpetuating the conflicting views entertained in this and in the other House of Parliament this exciting subject. I think, also, it is the duty of her Majesty's Government, in bringing forward the question again, after all that has taken place concerning it, that, as far as may be in their power, they should propose a comprehensive measure, and one which, if carried, will give that, without which I consider that no measure can be comprehensive and final, viz.: on the one hand, security to the Irish Church; and on the other, satisfaction to the people of Ireland. It is with these views I mean to give notice that on the 30th of April this question will be introduced to the House; and I have also to state that the nature of the measure I have to propose is such, that it will not be possible to introduce it by the same kind of general resolution by which we introduced the measure of former years, but it will be necessary to take the sense of the House on various resolutions, as the groundwork of the measure. I think it, therefore, my duty to state what those resolutions will be; I consider it my duty to state them, that the House may have a general view of the nature of the bill it is intended to propose. At the same time that I declare it to be the anxious wish of her Majesty's Government to come to a settlement of this question, I must say, that I do conceive there is at present in Ireland, on the part of those, who, in former years have opposed its settlement, a great and growing anxiety to see it set at rest; and I do think that it will be for the advantage not only of that party but of Parliament, and also of the people of Ireland, that the question should be finally disposed of. In addition to these few words, I have only further to say that I certainly have observed, since the beginning of the Session, that some petitions have been presented to this House which have stated that the clergy are satisfied with the existing state of things: but, on the other hand, meetings have been held at which a contrary feeling has been expressed. if there be a wish for a settlement I do not think it is impracticable; but if, on the contrary, it is the opinion of the parties most interested that it would be better for the present law to be allowed to operate without any alteration, in that case, perhaps, Parliament will not consider it the duty of her Majesty's Government to propose any measure for the permanent settlement of the whole question. I will now read the resolutions which I propose to move on the day that the question is brought forward. The noble Lord read the following resolutions:—

  1. "1. That it is the opinion of this Committee, that Tithe Composition in Ireland should be commuted into a rent-charge at the rate of seven-tenths of their amount, to be charged on the owner of the first estate of inheritance.
  2. "2. That it is the opinion of this Committee, that on the expiration of existing interests, so much of such rent-charge as shall be payable in lieu of Ecclesiastical Tithe, should be purchased by the State, at the rate of sixteen 1318 years' purchase of the original Tithe Composition.
  3. "3. That it is the opinion of this Committee, that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for Ireland should be empowered, with the consent of the Incumbents, to demand from the State the purchase at the same rate of any other portion of Ecclesiastical Tithe Composition or Rent Charge, not exceeding one-tenth of the whole amount in any one year.
  4. "4. That it is the opinion of this Committee, that until such Rent Charge shall be purchased or redeemed, the amount of Ecclesiastical Rent-Charge and Ministers' Money, should be paid to the Incumbents from the Consolidated Fund.
  5. "5. That it is the opinion of this Committee, that the arrangement of such payments, and the investment of the purchase monies paid by the State for Ecclesiastical Rent-Charge, should be intrusted to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for Ireland.
  6. "6. That it is the opinion of this Committee, that the Rent-Charges for Ecclesiastical Tithe should be appropriated by law to certain local charges now defrayed out of the Consolidated Fund, and to Education; the surplus to form part of the Consolidated Fund.
  7. "7. That it is the opinion of this Committee, that the Rent-Charges for Ecclesiastical Tithe and Ministers' Money should be collected by the Commissioners of Woods and Forests for five years and until Parliament shall otherwise provide.
  8. "8. That it is the opinion of this Committee, that further provision should be made by law for the regulation of Ecclesiastical Duties, and the better distribution of Ecclesiastical Revenues in Ireland.
  9. "9. That it is the opinion of this Committee, that provision should be made for the revision of certain Tithe Compositions, where such Compositions operate with injustice.
  10. "10. That it is the opinion of this Committee, that the Rent-Charges for Lay Tithe should be collected by the Tithe-owner, and facilities afforded for redemption upon mutual agreement between the parties."
I propose that these resolutions be printed, and, in conclusion, beg to give notice, that, on the 30th of April, I shall bring the subject under the consideration of the House.

Sir R. Peel

I will, in the first place, thank the noble Lord for the frank declaration be has made of the intentions of her Majesty's Government, and also for the proof he has afforded, that the question I asked was the natural course for me to take, inasmuch as, without any previous concert with me, he was prepared to give me an answer to my question. The noble Lord has exempted me from the necessity of giving an answer to his question, yet, as far as in my power, I will do so. The question he asked was, whether or no in moving that the House resolve itself into' Committee on the Municipal Corporations Bill, the particular motion made in the two preceding years, that the Bill be separated, will be renewed. I will first observe, that I think there might be some force in the noble Lord's argument that it is desirable to proceed with one measure at a time, if the noble Lord had steadily adhered to that principle: but he did not content himself with bringing forward the Poor Relief Bill for Ireland; in bringing forward that measure he did not withhold his intentions with respect to the Municipal Corporations Bill; on the contrary, it would be recollected that to resolve some doubts and relieve some anxiety on the part of his friends, he accompanied the Poor-law Bill with the measure respecting the Municipal Corporations. On that ground, then, I think we have a right to claim to be placed on a similar footing as regards the measure relating to Irish tithes. Of course the noble Lord will not understand me to imply any opinion as to these resolutions by any observations that I may now make. I fully participate in that which was expressed by a noble Friend of mine in the other House at the close of the last Session. He said he wished it might be found possible for Parliament to come to some final, satisfactory settlement of this question. There is a prospect of coming to a settlement, I trust, with respect to the Irish Poor-law Bill. I for one wish it may be possible to come to a settlement with respect to the Irish Corporations Bill, and the Bill relating to the Irish Church; but I feel myself bound to say, what indeed I always have said on this question, that security for the Irish Church must be an essential condition of any such settlement. This was the opinion I expressed on the there reading of the Municipal Corporation Bill. I trust the noble Lord will himself see that it is desirable the Committee on the Irish Municipal Bill should be postponed till the sense of the House has been pronounced on the resolutions. If he proposes to go into Committee on the Municipal Bill previous to the sense of the House being pronounced on those resotions, the course I shall take will be to move, not an instruction to the Committee for the separation of the Bill, as has been moved on former occasions, but that till Committee be postponed till after the sense of the House shall have been taken on the resolutions. I trust that the noble Lord will feel that this is a distinct intimation on my part of the course I intend to pursue. With respect to these resolutions I mean to imply no opinion whatever; and I beg that I may be considered as giving no pledge whatever with respect to the Irish Municipal Corporations Bill other than that general one, of an earnest desire to see that question settled, and that Irish subjects shall not be the constant themes of party conflicts. With respect to the matters of detail, such as the extent to which the principle shall be carried, the value that shall regulate the qualifications of the officers and what shall constitute the qualifications of the voters, on those questions I reserve myself. I am merely speaking as to the general principle which will actuate the course I shall pursue.

Resolutions to be printed.

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