HC Deb 19 July 1854 vol 135 cc418-32

Order read, for resuming adjourned Debate on Question [13th June]—"That leave be given to bring in a Bill to alter and amend the Laws relating to the Temporalities of the Church in Ireland, and to increase the means of religious instruction and church accommodation for Her Majesty's Irish subjects."

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.


said, that, notwithstanding the impracticability of considering a measure of such importance at this advanced period of the Session, he considered it right that an opportunity should be afforded to the hon. and learned Mem- ber (Mr. Serjeant Shee) of answering the statements that had been made, and he therefore thought he had discharged his duty by moving the adjournment of the debate on the previous occasion.


said, he considered he was entitled to call the attention of the House to any subject in which a large constituency were interested, but more especially when he had been charged with such misstatements and exaggeration, he was bound to vindicate himself. He should proceed at once to reply to what had been stated by the opponents of the measure. The House would recollect that when he introduced this question he stated the object was to transfer a portion of the surplus income of the Irish clergy of the Established Church to Commissioners composed of Presbyterians and Roman Catholics, for the purpose of employing it in a manner similar to that in which the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for Ireland employed a large portion of their revenue —namely, in rebuilding, repairing, and refurnishing places of worship for the Presbyterian and Catholic communities. He proposed that the accounts of such Commissioners should be laid before the House annually, and that they should be appointed by the Crown. He had also gone into various statistics, and quoted the opinions of Dr. Paley and Bishop Warburton, that the Established Church of Ireland had failed in its object, and he had submitted that, there being at the most only 882,000 members of that Church out of a population of 6,500,000, it did not effect the object of civil utility, on which alone, according to the opinion of Bishop Warburton, a Church establishment was justifiable. He had also quoted the opinions of Lord Brougham, Lord Grey, Lord Campbell, the noble Lord the President of the Council, and the right hon. Baronet the Colonial Secretary, that the present state of the Church Establishment in Ireland was indefensible. In reply to that, the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for Ireland (Sir J. Young) said, that the opinions in question only applied to the state of the Irish Church at a very distant period, and not at the present day; but he (Mr. Serjeant Shee) would remind the House that those opinions had all been given after the settlement of the Irish Church in 1833; and that in 1836 Lord Morpeth brought in a Bill on the subject which differed in no material respect, except the manner in which the surplus revenue was proposed to be appropriated, from the Bill which he now asked leave to introduce. In a question of such importance, he asked, could the House blame him, representing as he did a constituency of 150,000 souls, of whom 8,000 alone were Protestants, for wishing to bring in a Bill on the matter, when he found the whole of the ecclesiastical revenues of his diocese in the hands of the clergy of those 8,000 persons; while the clergy of the members of his own creed had neither houses to live nor churches to worship in, unless they provided them out of their private resources? What was he there for if he had not a right to bring this shameful grievance before the people of England? And he believed that when they were informed of it, they would be the first to correct the abuses he complained of. What he asked was, whether they would maintain their Establishment in dignity and honour, and not whether they would in any great degree deprive it of its funds? This was the first time that an attempt had been made to bring this subject before the House, without in any way exceeding the liberty given to the Roman Catholics by the oath which they took on entering the House; for the proposition which he made to them was quite consistent with the maintenance of the present Established Church in honour and dignity. He was astonished that, after the description he had given of the state of things in Ireland in moving for leave to introduce this Bill, there should be any objection to allowing him to lay it on the table; for that step did not in the smallest degree pledge them to an approval of its principle. The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Napier) had accused him of overrating the income of the Irish Church. He would, however, prove that he had done no such thing. He had stated that the permanent revenue received by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners was 95,000l. per annum, and that there was also an additional revenue of 15,000l. per annum not of the same permanent character. Now, this was actually quoted from Archdeacon Stopford's book, and he had it on better authority even than that, for it was stated in the last Report of the Commissioners themselves. Then, again, he stated the income of the archbishops and bishops at 68,000l. That also was taken from a paper which must have been supplied by the Ecclesias- tical Commissioners themselves; and he had a return made by the archbishops and bishops, stating their net income, after making the most ludicrous deductions, such as insurance on their houses, interest at 5l. per cent on account of money expended on their houses, poor rates—only fancy that!—and various other small deductions, at 64,430l.; therefore he could not be considered to have been very far wrong in stating it at 68,000l., because he did not admit the justice of the deductions in question. Then, again, he had stated the parochial revenue of the Irish Church at 438,000l., and there again he based his calculations on the figures in the Archdeacon's book, who, he must say, had shown great courtesy in the controversy, and behaved in a manner very different to that which had been misrepresented of him. He might also justify in the same way his statement of 12,000l. for the revenue of dignitaries, and 9,000l. for prebendaries, &c. But the right hon. and learned Gentleman said he was wrong in his surplus; now, he could show that he was quite right. In addition to the 95,000l. now disposable by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners as permanent income, there was a sum of 15,000l. a year not considered as permanent, but which presented a prospective increase up to 18,000l. or 20,000l., and there was also a sum of 35,000l. put down by the Ecclesiastical commissioners for expenditure in church requisites, such as surplices, candles, bibles, prayer-books, &c.; and he must say, that considering the indifferent manner in which the churches of Roman Catholics—the bulk of the population—were furnished, they ought to blush and be ashamed of such a charge. They might economise that item, and also effect a considerable saving by reducing the income of the archbishops of the Established Church in Ireland to 4,000l., and that of bishops to 2,500l. annually, which he thought, considering the small proportion of the Protestant population, would be amply sufficient. At present the aggregate amount of their incomes was 64,000l., and some of them had more patronage than the Lord Chancellor; for, as they well knew, in Ireland the Crown exercised very little patronage comparatively. He spoke with great respect of those eminent prelates, who were not at all disliked in Ireland, who lived at home and were personally very charitable; still he submitted, that the sum he had named would be amply sufficient. They could also save 50,000l. a year upon the various benefices in certain dioceses of Ireland without depriving any one of the means of religious instruction. There were 395 benefices in those dioceses, the population of which, before the famine, was 998,000 Catholics and only 16,700 Protestants of all denominations. The income derivable from them was between 80,000l. and 90,000l. The churches were very close to each other, there being often five or six within a circuit of three or four miles. In the diocese of Cloyne, where there were sixty-five churches, he had ascertained, by having them actually counted, that the number of attendants of all ages, on Easter Sunday, was under 4,000 out of a population of 250,000. By forming the churches into unions—which could be done with great facility, and with no inconvenience as far as church accommodation went—the sum he had mentioned might be saved, and they could still pay the clergymen, on the average, 400l. per annum, and give them a house to live in. Such was the plan which he wished the House to adopt, and which he believed would tend to the benefit of the country. He was, indeed, quite aware that it would not be acceptable to the Irish country gentlemen, who were in favour of the continuance of the Established Church in its present condition and with its present abuses, because they knew that they were now certain to get a good living, or, perhaps, a bishopric for one of their sons. He would prove to the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for Ireland, that the sum he had mentioned could be economised beyond all question. In 1848, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners made a return of the benefices which, by the death of the incumbents, had become subject to the tax imposed under the Church Temporalities Act, and also of those which had not so become subject, and he found that 283 were not liable to the tax. Some of them had enormous incomes, and the surplus above 300l. a year was 56,000l., the whole of which might be saved. Then, again, with respect to the expenses of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, a saving might be effected. The members of that Commission were Bishops, and received no salary; yet, he found that, while the amount of money dealt with by the Commissioners was 992,000l., the expenses amounted to no less than 127,474l., or 12¼l. per cent, which he considered intolerable. If this Bill should pass—and he firmly believed that, before long, either this Bill or some similar measure would be adopted—he proposed that the charge of 35,000l. now paid for the sacramental elements should be defrayed by the rich Protestants of Ireland. He further proposed that 30,000l. should be paid annually to the Catholic Ecclesiastical Commissioners, 10.000l. a Year to the Presbyterian Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and that 5,000l. a year should be placed in the hands of the Lord Lieutenant and the Irish Privy Council, to be distributed among other Protestant communities. There would still remain a sum of 169,000l. to be hereafter realised on the death of the present prelates and incumbents of the Protestant Church, and he proposed that this sum should be divided into six parts, three-sixths being placed at the disposal of the Catholic Ecclesiastical Commissioners, two-sixths remaining in the hands of the present Ecclesiastical Commissioners for Ireland, and the other sixth being paid over to the Presbyterian Ecclesiastical Commissioners, with the view of building churches for the Irish Presbyterians, by whom such accommodation was greatly required. Very large sums of money had been expended upon the churches of the Establishment, and it appeared from the Reports of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners that a sum of 35,000l. or 36,000l. a year would be amply sufficient to keep those churches in repair for the future. Even after that deduction, however, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for the Established Church would still have in their hands an annual income of 60,000l., which he thought would afford ample means for the augmentation of small livings. He thought he had now disposed of the objections of the right hon. Secretary for Ireland, and he must express his astonishment that that right hon. Baronet, on the part of the Government, should have opposed the introduction of this Bill, and should have said that the present arrangement with respect to the temporalities of the Established Church in Ireland was final. If the right hon. Baronet entertained that opinion, he would find himself very much mistaken, and if the present Administration persisted in such an idea there would soon be an end of their Government. He would tell the Government that the doctrine of finality with reference to this question would not do, and, for his own part, he would endeavour by every means in his power, consistently with the solemn oath he had taken at the table of the House, to put an end to the shameful grievances to which he had called attention. It was quite true that no Government could stand which had the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Napier) for their Attorney General, for he, far more than Lord Derby, was the cause of the downfall of the late Government. Still he remembered that the leader of that party in the House of Commons (Mr. Disraeli) had once stated—he had, it was true, given no proof of his intention to carry such a policy into effect—that the only way to deal successfully with Ireland was to set this question at rest. But let that be as it might, it was impossible that the present Government could continue to hold office on the principle of upholding the present Irish Church. By so doing they deprived themselves of the support of himself and of many other hon. Gentlemen, who, while sympathising with them on almost every other subject, were prevented, by their policy on this, from enlisting themselves in the ranks of their supporters. The late Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. G. A. Hamilton), whose absence on this occasion he regretted, had made some very severe criticisms upon his speech, and had accused him of misstatements and exaggeration. The hon. Gentleman said that he had stated that the episcopal and parochial clergy in the diocese of Ossory shared among them a revenue amounting to 60,000l., while the Parliamentary returns showed the revenue to be only 50,307l. The hon. Gentleman, however, made several deductions, the justice of which he (Mr. Serjeant Shee) did not admit, and be found that he had actually understated the revenue, which amounted to about 61,500l. The hon. Gentleman had also taken exception to his statements with respect to the income of the episcopal and parochial clergy of the diocese of Cashel, which he (Mr. Serjeant Shee) had stated at 42,000l., and, on further investigation, he found the actual amount was 42,611l., the hon. Member (Mr. Hamilton) having made deductions which he (Mr. Serjeant Shee) contended ought not to be allowed. The hon. Gentleman also referred to the diocese of Limerick. He (Mr. Serjeant Shee) stated the episcopal and parochial revenue at 31,500l., while the hon. Member said that it appeared from the returns to be only 26,215l. In this case, however, the hon. Gentleman made deductions which were not justifiable since the passing of the Rent Charge Act, and he (Mr. Serjeant Shee) found that the actual revenue was 31,880l., instead of 31,500l. The hon. Gentleman further charged him with a misstatement respecting the revenues of Armagh, Clogher, Down, Derry, and other dioceses, which he (Mr. Serjeant Shee) had estimated at 170,000l. annually, while the hon. Gentleman said that those revenues, according to the returns, amounted only to 139,686l. He found, however, that, including the episcopal and diaconal incomes, which were omitted by the hon. Gentleman, the actual revenue of these dioceses was 172,023l. annually. The hon. Gentleman also said that he had represented that the cost of churches in the diocese of Ossory had been 105,000l., whereas the Parliamentary return showed that it had only been 99,559l.; but the hon. Gentleman seemed to have forgotten the cost of churches built by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners since 1836 and 1837, when the return to which he had alluded was made. He found that, since 1836, seventeen new churches had been erected in the diocese of Ossory, at a cost to the Commissioners of 16,000l., so that he ought to have stated the expenditure at 115,000l. instead of 105,000l. The hon. Gentleman had fallen into a similar error with regard to the churches built in the dioceses of Cashel and Limerick. He found that the actual cost of churches in the diocese of Cashel had been upwards of 54,000l., instead of 51,000l., as he had before stated. With regard to the diocese of Limerick, he was ready to admit he had made a mistake. He had stated the cost of new churches in that diocese at 53,098l., and the hon. Member for Dublin University (Mr. Hamilton) said it was only 45,935l. He (Mr. Serjeant Shee) found on a more accurate investigation that the actual cost had been 51,421l. The right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Napier) had thought fit to comment upon some of the remarks which he (Mr. Serjeant Shee) had made in bringing his Bill under the notice of the House. That right hon. and learned Gentleman was the bitter and irreconcilable foe of the great body of his countrymen. He considered that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was a man who rendered it impossible for hon. Gentlemen on the Opposition benches to conduct a Government; for he believed they might have had some chance of remaining in office if the right hon. and learned Gentleman had not been a Member of their Administration. He thought that the best thing those hon. Members could do would be to give the right hon. and learned Gentleman an intimation that, at the earliest opportunity, he would be placed upon the bench, where, no doubt, he would administer justice with the impartiality which distinguished both Protestant and Catholic Judges in Ireland. The possibility of a Government of which the right hon. and learned Gentleman might be a Member was, however, out of the question, for the whole body of Irish representatives would oppose any Government which gave the right hon. and learned Gentleman a seat in Dublin Castle. The hon. and learned Gentleman then proceeded to reply at some length to the charge made against him by Mr. Napier that he had founded his arguments upon the population returns of 1834, as if, during the twenty years which had subsequently elapsed, there had been no change in the numbers of the Irish population; and referred to a pamphlet which he had published upon this subject to show that in every case of reference to population he had stated the increase or decrease in the population of the districts to which he alluded. The statements which he had made with respect to the attendance of Protestants at divine worship in their churches on Easter Sunday, 1853, were borne out by the facts of the case. Under the Church Temporalities Act, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners had enormous funds for building churches, and they had actually built ninety-eight new churches, and repaired fifty-nine, but none of these was at Achill. Therefore he inferred that the statements of the Bishop of Tuam relative to the increase of Protestantism at that spot were founded on hallucination. With regard to another charge of misrepresentation, he had never stated that the Bishop of Cloyne had an income of 3,000l.; but he had stated, as was the fact, that he had an income of 2,498l. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, again, charged him with misstating the income of the Archbishop of Armagh; but that most rev. Prelate himself returned his gross income at 16,299l., and his net income, after all possible deductions, at 14,634l.,the amount he had named. It was not honest to endeavour to disparage a man who came forward openly to bring questions of this kind in a fair manner before the House. It was absurd to pretend that the Church Establishment could be subverted by a measure which left to every archbishop an income of 4,000l. a year, and to every bishop one of 2,500l. He was astonished at the manner in which the right hon. and learned Gentleman bad dealt with this case, and could only express his wonder that any one who was capable of doing so should ever have been Attorney General, or that any one who aspired to be Attorney General again should think of dealing with the case in such a manner. Whatever the meaning of the oath taken by Catholics might be, it was their duty and interest to observe it faithfully; but he could not admit that the construction placed upon it by the right hon. and learned Gentleman was the correct one. He did not believe it would be for the advantage of the community, that the Church Establishment of Ireland should be thrown down; for if it were, the Roman Catholics would be deluged with an army of proselytisers, who would publish all sorts of blasphemies against their religion, instead of having resident amongst them a body of amiable and well-educated gentlemen, who, though not agreeing in religious sympathies and opinions with the population generally, never failed in seasons of distress to stretch out a helping hand of charity to the sufferers. In every book he had published on the subject, he had avowed these opinions, and his hon. Friends near him differed from him because he had done so. His belief was, that they would not be well advised, if they sought the destruction of the Church Establishment through the means lately suggested; and they ought to be glad to connect themselves, he would not say as stipendiaries, but through the medium of an Act of Parliament with the Government of the country. For these reasons he regretted very much the proposals lately made for giving up the endowment of Maynooth. His conviction was, that there could be no hope of good government in Ireland, nor of any good understanding between the two countries, or of carrying on the system of public policy by a Liberal Administration, until Members representing Catholic constituencies were satisfied on this great question of the Irish Church. It was to promote this consolidation of the Union, for the purpose of getting rid of all distrust, animosity, and dissension, and of producing, so far as was consistent with the maintenance of the Established Church, religious equality in every benefice in Ireland, that he proposed this Bill. He was in the hands of the House as to whether there should be a division or not. He was quite willing to divide, and did not care about being in a minority, for his hope was hereafter to count the men who came over to him. He trusted in the good sense and justice of the people of England, that they would not long tolerate this great abuse.


said, in explanation, that the hon. and learned Gentleman had professed to state the incomes of the bishops and clergy of Ireland as they stood under the Church Temporalities Act; but, according to that Act, the deductions to be made from the income of the Archbishop of Armagh amounted to 6,000l., and, therefore, the hon. and learned Serjeant had stated the income of that Prelate at 6,000l. more than the proper amount, as appeared on the face of the return.


said, that fact was no doubt stated in a note, which note also appeared in the printed copy of the speech as circulated.


said, he could speak from his own knowledge as to the numerous attendance in two churches lately built in Achill, and it was his belief that if more Protestant churches were supplied in Ireland, congregations would be found to fill them.


said, that as a matter of courtesy, he would, if the House divided, vote for the introduction of the Bill, but he must, at the same time, express his conviction that the measure would continue unacceptable to the great body of the liberal Roman Catholic Members. He much regretted that the noble President of the Council should have enunciated the proposition that the question of the Protestant Church in Ireland had been finally settled. Finality upon all such matters was a term which the noble Lord might well have learned to avoid; and he must warn the noble Lord that it was not by any such propositions he could hope long to retain the support of a large body in that House who at present rendered him their aid. The noble Lord would do well to bear in mind that there were many Members of that House who supported Ministers, not so much from love to them, as from hostility to their antagonists over the way, and the noble Lord would act wisely in not overtaxing the patience of those who for such reasons supported him.


said, that the hon. Member who had just resumed his seat had addressed his observations to the Government, who, on the present occasion, were represented by empty benches. The hon. Member had said, that the conduct of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who was Attorney General for Ireland under the Government of Lord Derby would have prevented Liberal Roman Catholics supporting that Government; but he was happy to say that in the estimation of the people of England, the brightest part of the Administration of Lord Derby was the conduct of the Irish Executive. The hon. Member had, with great good sense, deprecated the course taken by the hon. and learned Member for Kilkenny (Mr. Serjeant Slice). The misstatements which had been made showed that there were those who, with terms of peace on their lips, sought for nothing less than the overthrow of the Established Church in Ireland. They were seeking to effect that at a time when the population of the country had been reduced, and when, as admitted by the hon. Member for Cork, the Roman Catholics were not much more than a half of the population. [Cries of "No, no!"] He believed that the hon. Member had said that they were five-eighths. It appeared that nearly 2,000,000 of Roman Catholics had gone to the United States, the greater part of whom had in that country abandoned the Roman Catholic faith. [Cries of "No, no!"] That, however, was the statement of Priest Mullins. He wished to know, therefore, whether the present was a proper time for the hon. and learned Serjeant to propose the suppression of nearly 400 benefices of the Established Church? [Mr. Serjeant SHEE: The consolidation of 395 benefices]. The diminution by consolidation of 395 benefices. Surely that was interfering with the Church of Ireland. Moreover, it was a notorious fact that the Roman Catholic people in the west, as stated by the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Frewen), were joining the Protestant Church, and were becoming sensible of the blessings which it conferred on Ireland. Those blessings could not be denied, and yet lion. Members were trying to undermine an Establishment, the merits of which were daily acknowledged by the accession to it of hundreds of thousands of the people. Surely, then, hon. Members could not deny that conversion was going on rapidly in the west of Ireland, that the Roman Catholic population had enormously diminished, and that the number of persons belonging to the Established Church in Ireland was now much greater than it was when they were returned at 800,000. If there was any feeling of liberality among Roman Catholics—if they were not actuated by a blind desire to assail the religion of their fellow-countrymen—the last thing they would attempt to do would be to seek to deprive their fellow-countrymen of the benefits of a Church which hundreds of thousands of them had made the Church of their choice, and which had conferred such blessings on the country.


said, he was prepared to vote for the Motion of his hon. and learned Friend, because he thought he ought at least to have an opportunity of laying his Bill before the House. At the same time he objected to its principle, because he could not understand how any Roman Catholic Member could bring in a measure respecting the Irish Church which had not for its object the getting rid entirely of that abuse and standing nuisance in the country. He would not go into the question of the oath, because that was a subject which savoured somewhat of casuistry, and was rather a matter for individual conscience. At the same time he could not conceive that the oath could ever have been intended to fetter the Members of that House in their legislative capacity, because that would be entirely unconstitutional. The whole question had been fully discussed with regard to the coronation oath. It had been very cogently argued that the King, having sworn to maintain the rights of the Established Church, could not consent to a measure affecting its privileges. That consideration pressed much upon the conscience of George IV., but he was told by his gravest advisers that his oath did not bind him in his legislative capacity. The same principle applied also to Members of Parliament. It had been always maintained that one Parliament could not bind a future one; nor could one part of the Parliament bind the rest. By parity of reasoning it followed that the whole Parliament could not bind any Member of it. He thought, therefore, that the invective of hon. Members on the other side was not justifiable. Besides, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other Prelates had all taken an oath not to consent to the alienation of the property of their respective sees; yet they did consent to a measure which had that effect. It had been wittily remarked by Sydney Smith, that he could not make it out how the Archbishop could have assented to such a measure; but he had found out that his Grace had only taken the oath by proxy. That the unfortunate attorney who had taken the oath for the Archbishop and had received his fee for doing so, had since consulted many eminent divines, but that they had all assured him that he must suffer the pains of eternal fire for the Archbishop; that he had therefore been daily going to Lambeth Palace with the fee in his hand to entreat the Archbishop to take it back, and to relieve him from the responsibility he had so incautiously assumed, but that his Grace had refused to do so, and had left him in his miserable plight. He (Mr. Bowyer) did not wish to charge the right rev. Prelates with perjury; because he did not think that this oath was ever intended to bind them in their capacity of Members of the House of Lords. But he did ask for Roman Catholics the same interpretation of their oath as Members of the House of Commons. If he were to bring in a Bill to reform the Church of Ireland, it would be one to abolish it altogether; because that Church, though established originally by force, and since bolstered up by law, was in no true sense of the word a national Church. He was far, however, from coveting the wealth of the Establishment either in England or in Ireland. The Roman Catholic Church was in a far wholesomer condition than would be the case if it was possessed of State patronage; and her bishops with incomes of 400l. or 500l. a year were as learned, as active, and as saintly as any bishops in the world. The hon. and learned Serjeant said he wished to improve the character and position of the Established Church by taking away what appeared to him to be a blot; but he (Mr. Bowyer) thought that the Protestants were the best judges of that themselves. He did not wish to interfere with their affairs, just as he had wished the Protestants not to interfere with the monastic institutions. With regard to this Bill, he could not concur with his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Serjeant Shee) in the principles upon which it was founded, because he thought that no measure relating to the Established Church in Ireland could satisfy the people of that country, if it did not deal root and branch with that injustice, that abuse and scandal, and completely settle the question. Now, the Bill of his hon. and learned Friend would not settle the question, and could not, he believed, satisfy the people of Ireland. Nevertheless he should vote for the Motion of his hon. and learned Friend for leave to bring in the Bill, which he thought was a measure framed with great ability and with the best possible intentions, and which deserved full consideration on the part of that House.


said, he rose to contradict a statement made by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), which would lead the House to believe that the people of Ireland were fast becoming Protestants, and were daily and hourly forsaking the Roman Catholic religion. So far from this being the case, the fact was that for one Roman Catholic landed proprietor who existed in Ireland twenty years ago there were at present twenty.

Question put; The House divided: Ayes 31; Noes 117: Majority 86.