HC Deb 18 March 1851 vol 115 cc116-24

, in bringing forward the Motion of which he had given notice, said it was not his intention to discuss the subject in any other spirit than that which became the consideration of a practical subject in which the rights of property were intimately involved. It was his intention to relieve it as much as possible of everything like legal technicality. He should not give a history of Irish tithes; the ante and post Union statutes on that subject were very numerous: it would be sufficient for his purpose to state that the Legislature at one period substituted for tithes in Ireland a composition, and subsequently, for that composition, a perpetual rent-charge, variable in amount at certain intervals. But, in order that English Gentlemen should understand the injustice of the system of which he complained, it was absolutely necessary to ask their attention to the course of legislation in Ireland on this subject. There was no concealing the fact, that all legislation was practically determined by the decision and views of English Members. The number of Irish Members was insignificant. The numeri- cal strength of English Members was predominant, and must always naturally prevail, even in legislation upon questions of purely Irish interest: it was, therefore, very important that English Members should understand this subject. The position of the rent-charge in lieu of tithes in England was, since the passing of the Commutation Act in 1836, this: that an annual rent-charge was substituted for the tithes of each parish, varying annually, according to the average septennial value of certain bushels and decimal parts of bushels of wheat, barley, and oats, as published, on the Thursday before Christmas-day in each year, in the London Gazette. But the position of the tithe rent-charge in Ireland was very different. By the 4th Geo. IV., c. 99, the composition substituted for tithes was calculated on the average of all sums paid on account of tithes during the seven years preceding 1821, to be varied by giving notice in any subsequent third year, according to the average price of wheat or oats, whichever may be the prevailing crop in the county. By the 5th Geo. IV., c. 63, all compositions were made subject to variation in the seventh and fourteenth years, and then only with reference to the average price of corn, as advertised in the Dublin Gazette. The price was only the price obtained in the Dublin market, and there was no system existing by which the price of agricultural produce within the city of Dublin could be satisfactorily ascertained. The next piece of legislation was in 1832, 2nd and 3rd Wm. IV., c. 119. In 1838 the 1st and 2nd Vic, cap. 119, was passed, the 7th section of which provided that all land liable to composition should be chargeable with an annual perpetual rent-charge equal to three-fourths of the amount of such composition, payable half-yearly. That Act provided that in Ireland those perpetual rent-charges should be strictly corn-rents, subject to variation every seven years, by the same machinery provided for the variation of the compositions for which they were substituted. Now, in England the "corn" was made to consist of wheat, barley, and oats; in Ireland it was confined to one description of crop wheat or oats, whichever was most generally cultivated in the county; and he contended that there ought to be a system which would secure a reduction of the tithe rent-charge equal to the notorious reduction in the value of agricultural produce in Ireland. In Ireland they were called upon to show the price of corn as stated in the Dublin Gazette before any alteration in the existing tithe rent-charge could be made. That was a very vexatious process, and it was very difficult to perform it legally; and then upon two certain Sundays the notices directed to be served must be posted upon the church doors of the parish. But what was to be done with several parishes which he knew, where there was neither church, chapel, conventicle, nor meeting place of any kind? With reference to the archdiocese of Cashel, in the county of Tipperary, the certificates appertaining to that extensive district had been partially removed to Waterford, and there was now great difficulty in knowing where the original certificates were to be found; and yet, in order to effect any alteration in the amount of the tithe rent-charge, according to the present state of the law, it is necessary to be prepared with proofs to establish the average price of grain for a given number of years, as published in the Dublin Gazette; to prove the posting of notices in a particular manner, and at a particular time, a task sometimes impracticable; and it is also requisite to find and produce the original certificate on which the composition was based. In England the average price of wheat, barley, and oats, was taken in 150 towns; the tithe rent was not charged by the prices of Mark-lane alone; and it was surely unjust that the alteration or diminution of tithe rent-charges in* the backward county of Kerry, or the extreme western portion of Cork, should be regulated according to the price of agricultural produce in the city of Dublin. It was of great importance, not only with reference to this subject, hut for the sake of other public objects, that there should be some well-regulated system for taking the corn average in Ireland. A system should be introduced which would provide for the ascertaining of the average price of corn within each county; and instead of variation being made in the amount of tithe rent-charge at septennial intervals, there should be a yearly variation, in accordance with the annual variation which might take place in the value of agricultural produce. He also wished to see the tithe rent-charge made an acreable charge, which would facilitate the transfer and sale of land into divisions suitable to the wants and requirements of the community. He did not want it to lead to such divisions and changes of the land as might be dan- gerous to Ireland; but the existence of the present Act prevented certain arrangements which would be beneficial to all, and unjust to none. Such a change as he suggested was, for example, important to the full and fair working of the Incumbered Estates Act in Ireland. He was also anxious to see the charge made redeemable. There were at present certain gentlemen, members of the Society of Friends, who objected upon religious grounds to purchase land so long as it was liable to a tithe rent-charge; but if there was a lessee, who was liable for its payment, the Quaker—terms being advantageous—had no scruple about completing a purchase. Under the operation of the existing laws for the relief of the poor in Ireland, ministers of the Established Church, it is contended by some, have frequently suffered alleged wrong, in having to pay a large amount of poor-rate; and it was said that if his (MR. Sadleir's) views were adopted, some of the clergy of that Church would be left without an income. Now, he thought that at present the revenues of the Established Church were not equally divided amongst the working clergy, and a more equitable distribution of those revenues should take place, so as that each of those ministers should have a respectable competence. He did not wish to abandon any of his opinions with respect it the ecclesiastical anomalies which prevailed in Ireland, and which he thought were a disgrace to the Legislature. Of all countries under the sun, Ireland was just the one where no injustice, no acknowledged Wrong, connected with the recovery or enforcement of tithe rent-charges, should be permitted to continue. That country was still labouring under the effects of successive misfortunes, unparalleled in the history of any country. The landed proprietors were chiefly Protestants. But this question, whilst it extensively and directly affected their interests and rights, was one which also affected the interests and property of the great mass of the Irish people. Looking at the pecuniary embarrassments of the owners of property in Ireland, he thought he was justified in asking the House to agree to the Motion of which he had given notice, namely, to pledge Parliament to substitute for the present system of levying tithe rent-charges in Ireland, a self-acting system, similar to that which prevailed in this country.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That it is expedient to substitute for the ex- isting mode of varying the amount of Tithe Rent-Charges in Ireland a self-acting system, whereby the amount of all Tithe Rent-Charges in Ireland shall be increased or diminished every year, according to the average prices of Corn, as ascertained by public advertisement, in a manner similar to the existing method of varying Tithe Rent-Charges in England and Wales.


seconded the Motion.


said, that the subject referred to in this Resolution was one of great complexity, and the right comprehension of which depended on the examination of minute details and the provisions of several Acts of Parliament; and he thought it would be extremely inexpedient for the House, at the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman, to commit itself to a particular course of proceeding, by passing this Resolution, without being in possession of the provisions of any Bill by which the object proposed could fairly be carried out. It was not very easy, without an intimate acquaintance with the subject, to follow the hon. Gentleman through all the topics of his speech, many of which seemed to have nothing whatever to do with the question before the House. It was the more necessary to see the specific alterations proposed in the shape of a Bill, rather than to agree to an abstract resolution introduced with a reference to a variety of other subjects, connected, no doubt, with tithe-rent charge, but which did not appear to come within the scope of the resolution. The hon. Gentleman had alluded to the redemption of tithes, to the methods by which he proposed to make them more marketable, and to the poor-rate charge on tithes; on all which subjects it was inexpedient that the House should pledge itself to a definite course without having the provisions of a Bill submitted to it. As he understood the Resolution, its object was to assimilate the law in Ireland to that of England, by dispensing with the necessity existing in Ireland for the individual tithe payers to take some proceedings, in order to reduce the tithe rent-charge which they were liable to pay, such charge being fixed, by Act of Parliament, at two-thirds the original tithe composition, that composition having been determined by a valuation made on a different principle in Ireland to what it was in England. He was not prepared to say, should it appear, on a careful examination of the Acts of Parliament relating to the subject, that there was no insuperable difficulty arising out of the circumstances under which tithe was raised in the two countries, that this was not a very fit subject to be considered by Parliament. But to consider it rightly, they ought to have it brought before them in the shape of a Bill, carefully framed, having regard to the original mode in which the tithe valuation was made in Ireland, as differing from that of England, and also to the various compositions that had been embodied in the Tithe Composition Act, and to the Tithe Rent Charge Act itself. If the hon. Gentleman was prepared to move for leave to bring in a Bill upon the subject, he (Sir G. Grey), on the part of the Government, would be perfectly ready to give his consent to the introduction of that Bill, and to consider its provisions. But he hoped that the hon. Gentleman would not propose to the House that it should come to what he (Sir G. Grey) thought would be a hasty and inconsiderate decision—that he would not ask the House to give a pledge which might be difficult to adhere to. He trusted, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman would not press his Motion to a division, but would now withdraw it, for the purpose of introducing it hereafter in the shape of a Bill.


said, he was quite ready to admit that the question had been argued very fairly and very temperately by the Member for Carlow. As it was likely he would withdraw his Resolution, according to the suggestion of the right hon. Baronet, he (MR. Hamilton) was unwilling to occupy the time of the House; but there were a few points in the speech of the hon. Member which required observation on his part. In the first place, he must remind the House that the question he had raised, was one that did not in the slightest degree affect the occupying tenantry in Ireland. Under the provisions of the several tithe composition Acts, all lands must now be let tithe free, and no arrangement as to the mode of taking the averages could effect the tenant. It was possible, certainly, that it might affect the landowner; but he (MR. Hamilton) did not believe that the landowners, either in England or Ireland, however distressed, would desire to secure an advantage for themselves if it involved an undue encroachment upon the rights of others. The hon. Member had dwelt much upon the system of averages in England; but he (MR. Hamilton) would observe there was no analogy whatever between the case of England and Ireland as regarded the arrangement of the tithe composition. In Ireland, under the Acts introduced by MR. Goulburn, in 1823 and 1824, voluntary compositions of tithes were encouraged, and the Acts provided that when such compositions were made, it should be on the following conditions: that the amount of the composition should be determined by the average of the sums actually received or agreed to be paid to the titheowner during the preceding seven years—that the composition should be in force for twenty-one years, with a power to either the titheowner or tithepayer to alter the amount of the composition every seven years, according to the average price of corn. That was the bargain made at that period. By a subsequent Act, the composition was made compulsory; and by 1st and 2nd Vic. it was converted into a rent-charge, with a deduction of 25 per cent. In England, by the Act of 1836, provision was made for the composition of tithes; but on the basis of the composition it was enacted that the clear value of the tithes for the seven years previous to 1830, should he taken, deducting only the expense of collecting, of marketing, and of preparing for sale. The full value then of the tithes, supposing them to be taken in kind, being settled, it was clearly fair and just in England that the value of each successive year should be variable according to the annual price of corn; but in Ireland the composition being fixed, not according to the tithe-owner's rights, but according to his receipts, and it being part of the arrangement that the variation should be septennial, it would be a breach of faith now, when prices were falling, to convert it into an annual variation. There were other considerations involved in the question to which he would briefly advert. Since the passing of those Acts in Ireland, the land had been relieved of parish cess, and the impost thrown upon the clergy, and a most unjust mode adopted of placing upon tithe rent-charge an undue proportion of the poor-rate. It would, therefore, he most unfair now to deprive the tithe-owner of any advantage which the Tithe Composition Acts afforded him. There might be some practical objections to the mode in which the averages were taken in the Dublin Gazette, or to the process by which the variations were to be effected. If the hon. Member should lay a Bill on the table for the purpose of meeting those objections, he (MR. Hamilton) would be ready to consider it; but he must decidedly oppose the Resolution now proposed by him, which would pledge the House to adopt an annual instead of a septennial average, as being at variance with the conditions on which the compositions were originally established.


said, he was favourable to the Resolution, though not for all the reasons which had been alleged in its favour by its Mover. He should be sorry to do anything which would have the effect of propping up that enormous injustice, the Incumbered Estates Act. Upon the whole, he should prefer to see the object of the Resolution embodied in a Bill. There was no reason, in the abstract, why the clergy in Ireland should not have the benefit of an increase in the price of corn, as in this country. The proposition of his hon. Friend the Member for Carlow was a fair one; but he hoped he would accede to the suggestion of the right hon. Baronet by the Home Secretary.


considered the existing difficulties in taking the averages, in order to determine the amount of charge, were so great as practically to render the previous legislation on the subject abortive. But, however, he recommended his hon. Friend to accept the proposition made by the right hon. Baronet.


advocated a septennial in preference to an annual average, as more equitable to all parties. His hon. Friend the Member for Roscommon had objected to the operation of the Incumbered Estates Bill. He believed that the general opinion was, that the Incumbered Estates Bill had operated as a robbery. ["Oh, oh !"] He had read in the papers, only the other day, that an estate having a rental of 380l. a year, could only gain a bidding of 1,500l.


would not occupy any further time this Session in discussing the question. He had given notice, at an early period of the Session, to move for leave to bring in a Bill on the subject; but he had been remonstrated with by many hon. Members for attempting to deal with a subject so large that Government only ought to undertake it; and this had induced him to give up his intention, and to submit his Motion and his reasons in their present form. But since, he had received an intimation from Government, that a Bill, if introduced by him, would not meet with Government opposition; and, as he hoped that Government was disposed to recognise the principle for which he contended, although the task of introducing a measure of so much importance was usually distasteful and objectionable to a private Member, he would, on the encouragement held out, give his attention to the question, with the view of introducing a measure on the subject at an early period. With that understanding he would withdraw his Motion.


hoped Government would take up the matter, as it was not, or ought not to be, a party question; and Government were, therefore, bound to effect practical good whenever they had an opportunity. The question was not one of such immense difficulty as that it could not be grappled with, even by the present Government.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.