HC Deb 20 March 1854 vol 131 cc996-8

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."


said, it was his intention to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. The House was already in possession of ample information with regard to the tax of ministers' money—an impost which might be described as an Irish church rate with aggravations peculiar to itself. The excuse urged in behalf of church rates in England, that they had existed from time immemorial, could not be alleged in favour of ministers' money, which was a tax of comparatively recent date, having been imposed by Statute in the reign of Charles II. That tax was a badge of conquest and of degradation to the Roman Catholic population of Ireland; it was perfectly unnecessary to the carrying out of the establishment principle in Ireland; it was extremely partial in its operation, and it fell chiefly upon persons whose religious belief was diametrically opposed to the creed which the tax was intended to support. He regarded the tax as both impolitic and unjust, and, as the amount derived from it was extremely small, and there was a strong feeling in favour of the total repeal of the impost, he hoped the Government would not press this Bill, which was intended simply to effect a compromise. The right hon. Gentleman who introduced the Bill had alleged as a reason for not proposing the total repeal of the tax the inviolability of Church property, but he (Mr. Miall) considered that a tax levied for the support of a Church or the maintenance of divine worship, under an Act of Parliament, could scarcely with propriety he denominated property, for such a tax might at any time be repealed by the Legislature. Besides, the right hon. Gentleman must have overlooked what took place a few years ago when the tithes were commuted to a rent-charge, and twenty-five per cent of them were thus sacrificed and given over to the landlords. If, however, this tax was to be regarded as Church property, he still thought it was completely within the power of that House to deal with it as they pleased, and that too, on principles of the most perfect equity. The right hon. Gentleman, by introducing a Bill which gave up part of this impost, thereby admitted that there was a real grievance complained of, and that the character of the tax was one of great injustice. There were abundant funds in the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners which might be made applicable to supply the place of this tax, and it would be consulting the best interests of the Church and of religion if such an application were brought about. He (Mr. Miall) conceived that, so long as a Church set at nought the principles of justice, it was perfectly vain to expect that the spiritual influence of that Church upon the people would be what it ought to be, and what it was designed to be. He believed that not only did the Church suffer, but that religion itself also suffered, from the mode of quartering the ministers of religion upon the resources of persons whom they were intending and hoping to convert. Only last week, while he (Mr. Miall) was engaged in attending to his duties in that House, three persons, a policeman and two brokers, entered his domicile; they brought with them a warrant from a magistrate; and, as he (Mr. Miall) happened to be one of those unfortunate individuals who had a conscientious objection to the payment of church rates, they seized what furniture they could put it into a cart, and drove off with it. Now, without considering what effect such acts were calculated to produce upon the minds of the victims, he would ask what effect they must have upon the minds of the men who were engaged in these transactions? Were such occurrences likely to increase their reverence for religion or its ministers? He hoped, therefore, that the House would show its desire to get rid of these inconvenient and irritating questions by supporting the Amendment he now begged to propose.


, in seconding the Amendment, said, he must express his regret that the Government evinced so little disposition to allay the excitement and irritation which were occasioned by this description of taxation. In the days of Charles, when cities and towns of Ireland and the city of Edinburgh were saddled with taxes of this nature, the number of Dissenters was small, but he called upon the Government to consider the number of individuals at present who, as Dissenters, objected on conscientious grounds to the imposition of these rates. He hoped that the Government, seeing the excitement and discontent occasioned by such taxes, would consider whether it was right or politic to raise by these means a paltry sum of 14,000l. or 15,000l. a year, when there were large surplus revenues belonging to the Church.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 203; Noes 97: Majority 106.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2o.