HC Deb 27 March 1854 vol 131 cc1373-81

Order for Committee read. House in Committee.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2— (The charge of Ministers' Money for the year ending 31st December 1853, to be ascertained, all houses rated to the Poor at or under ten pounds, being deducted, and amounts to be certified to Collector General of Rates, Town Clerks, and Clerks to Boards of Guardians)

Proposed to fill the blank in page 2, line 38, with "ten pounds."


said, he would move that the limit should be fixed at 20l. rent, instead of at 10l.


said, that a proposition had been already made by the Government to fill up the blank with 10l. and the hon. Gentleman should propose, in the first instance, to negative that proposition.


said, he did not understand that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had proposed to insert 10l.


said that, as the Bill was the result of a compromise of opinion, it would not be fair to depart from the understanding which the House had on a previous occasion come to. He must adhere to that proposition, and resist the Amendment.


said, he hoped the Government would reconsider the matter, and put an end to this tax altogether, instead of persevering in the present measure, which would continue a system that was calculated to create a great deal of irritation in Ireland. They proposed to reduce the amount derived from the tax from 15,000l. to 7,000l., and he thought it would be better to get the amount required from some other source.

Question put, "That the blank be filled with ten pounds.'"

The Committee divided:—Ayes 92; Noes 77: Majority 15.


said, he would propose that the blank be filled up with the words "twenty pounds." The tax had been imposed by the worst Government that ever ruled in this country, and it was a tax in favour of one-sixth portion of the Irish people, having already 600,000l. a year for their religious purposes. He regretted that this offensive tax should be advocated by a Liberal Government. It was a Bill which should be called "A Bill for preventing the growth of Protestantism in Ireland." He lamented the Bill being brought forward, and particularly at a time when all religious disputes should cease and all minds be united. But, should it pass, let it not be supposed that that would terminate the contest.


said, he thought that the insertion of 20l., instead of 10l., would not at all meet the objection of the hon. Member, who declared himself opposed to the Bill altogether. The Bill was not to apply to any future assessment. No house that should hereafter be built would be liable to the tax. He thought they did not get the amount of credit they deserved for the relief that would be given under this Bill. At present the Ministers' Money was collected from houses at the rate of 2s. per house, and by this Bill it was proposed that all houses should be exempted-that were rated at less than 10l., and it would be found that the measure of relief given under the Bill would be very great. Surely, these were mitigations of the present law; but those who opposed the Bill would allow the tax to remain in all its objectionable character. At present there were houses rated at less than 10l. a year. If hon. Gentlemen negatived the Bill, those houses would still be subjected to the tax.


said, he would admit that the Bill was one of relief, but it maintained the principle of the tax, and it was to the principle that he objected. Why not insert a clause to exempt all Roman Catholics from the tax? If they put in that clause there would be an end to the controversy.


said, that the majority of the occupiers of houses in the towns of Limerick, Cork, and Kilkenny, were Catholics, and this Bill afforded them no relief. The principle of the tax just remained the same as it was in the time of Charles II. He would venture to say that at Summerhill, city of Cork, there were twenty Catholic professors who had a large amount of property, some twenty and thirty houses, and many of them twelve. In the city of Cork a great number of the occupiers of houses and payers of the tax were Catholics. It was not the house, but the occupier, that paid the tax. But, even if the tax were transferred from the occupier to the landlord, it would not remove his objection to the Bill, as it would only be removing the tax from Catholic occupiers to Catholic proprietors. The tax had a most prejudicial effect on the political rights of parties. When he sat last year in the revision court 300 persons were disfranchised by the nonpayment of the tax. They would not submit to the degradation of paying a tax to support the ministers of one religion in order that they might be qualified to vote for a person of another religion. If the Government were really anxious to place Protestants and Catholics upon an equal footing in Ireland, why not exempt Catholics from this tax altogether?


said, that the last time he paid the tax he asked the collector whether he could tell him how many Protestant householders there were in the parish—that of St. George's, Dublin—and whether they were as nine to one of Roman Catholics, and the answer was that they were. 11,000l. a year of this tax was paid by the city of Dublin, and he was convinced that three-fourths of it, or more, were paid by Protestants. Now, the nature of the grievance, such as it might be, should be understood. There was no remedy against the person for this tax, only against the house. But he did not believe the occupier would derive any be- nefit from the repeal of the tax, for, if he did not pay it as a tax, he would pay it in the shape of increased rent.


said, that the parish to which the hon. and learned Gentleman had referred—St. George's, in Dublin—was not a fair criterion as to the proportion of Roman Catholic and Protestant occupiers, for it was the richest parish in Dublin. [Mr. WHITESIDE: No; St. Peter's.] At all events, he hoped the Government would consider whether, after having made the concessions they had, it was worth while to battle for so small a remnant of a tax, which was so offensive to the feelings of a large majority of the people of Ireland?


said, they had reduced the number of bishops in Ireland, and got rid of the church cess; and where was the difference between the church Bess and the tax now under consideration? The tax was originally established against Roman Catholics; it was a mark of triumph over them, and even on account of its historic recollections they ought to be relieved from it. Why not reduce a few more bishops? Why should the present establishment in Ireland be maintained, when the number of Protestants in proportion to the Roman Catholics was so inconsiderable? He begged to call the attention of the House to the petition of Samuel Beale, a Quaker, residing in Cork, who stated that on the 2nd of this month there were taken from his house six chairs and a sofa of the value of 9l. for a demand of 4l. 7s. 6d., and they were sold for 3l. 11s.; and he was in daily expectation of another seizure to make up the deficiency.


said, that all houses under 10l. in the city of Dublin were unquestionably occupied by Roman Catholics, and he was surprised that the Chief Secretary for Ireland should not recollect the fact of it having been so stated before the Committee. He could also assure the right hon. Gentleman that a great portion of the property in the city of Cork belonged to Roman Catholics.

Question put, "That the blank be filled with ten pounds.'"

The Committee divided:—Ayes 92; Noes 71: Majority 21.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 3 (The sums so certified to be raised in each parish by means of a rate upon all houses now chargeable except those rated under 10l.).


said, he should move to add to this clause the following words:—"Provided also that]no houses the property of Roman Catholics or Dissenters, be liable to be rated."

Amendment proposed, in page 3, line 28, after the words "Ministers' Money," to insert the words" Provided also, that no houses the property of Roman Catholics or Dissenters, be liable to be rated."


said, he must object to the Amendment, as totally at variance with the principle on which the Bill was read a second time.


said, he considered that the second reading of the Bill only affirmed that certain funds were to be raised. He should support the Amendment, because he considered that a Church of England Establishment ought to be supported by the members of that Church.


said, he should oppose the Amendment, for every concession made to certain parties in Ireland only appeared to lead the way to further demands. There would be great difficulty in practically working such a scheme as that proposed by the hon. Member for Clonmel (Mr. J. O'Connell).


said, that it would not be impossible to carry out the Amendment, because a similar provision was already the law of Canada with respect to tithes. Property ceased to be charged for tithes if it passed from the possession of a Protestant into that of a Roman Catholic.


said, that this was not a religious question, but simply one of money. The charge in question was not a personal charge, but one upon property. It would be impossible practically to carry out the proposition of the hon. Member. Suppose a house belonging to a Roman Catholic or Dissenter was inhabited by a member of the Church of England, was he to pay? Again, suppose a house belonging to a member of the Church of England was inhabited by a Roman Catholic, was the owner to get 2l. or 3l. a year more for his house because it was exempt from rating in virtue of being occupied by a person not liable to the tax? If they agreed to this proviso, there would be no end to questions such as those to which it would give rise.


thought that the members of each persuasion ought to pay their own ministers as they do their own doctors.


said, that it was impossible to separate the religious question from the one of pounds, shillings, and pence. The Roman Catholics felt severely the injustice of being called upon to pay a tax for the support of the clergy of another faith; and he must contend that it was a burden from which they had a right to be relieved. It was said that this was not a personal tax. It was, however, originally imposed for the "cure of souls." Now, it was clearly not the soul of a house, but of a man that was to be "cured;" and, therefore, it was clear that the tax must be an individual and personal charge.


said, he would beg the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Maguire) and those who acted with him, to consider what was involved in the principle they advocated—that no person of one religion should ever be called upon to contribute to anything connected with another. He would beg the hon. Gentleman to recollect how his doctrine would apply to the allowances made to Roman Catholic chaplains for attending upon the soldiers of the Army and the sailors in the Navy; and also other matters in which Roman Catholic interests were concerned. This tax had nothing to do with any religious question. It was a tax upon property, and it would be perfectly preposterous to make the rate upon a house dependent upon the religion of its owner. Was the imposition or non-imposition of the tax to be regulated by the religion of the head or of the immediate landlord? or was it to depend upon the religion of the occupier?, If they adopted any such principle as that of the proviso, they would be involved in endless absurdities. The tax was one upon property, to which every man knew that he was liable when he purchased it, and had really nothing whatever to do with religious feeling.


said, that the noble Lord had warned the House against pushing the doctrine of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Maguire) to its full extent. He (Mr. Hadfield) wished to carry it as far as it could be carried. Let the iron hand of the Church of England be taken off the whole country. The Church of England was not the National Church; he never wanted to hear it called by that offensive name. Not one-fourth of the people of this country were members of that Church. Why should Dissenters pay for its support? He would remind the Government that, with the Message from the Crown which had that day been read fresh in their memories, it was important to have the support of hon. Members on the other side, Religious quarrels had always been the weakness of this country.


said, that although the noble Lord thought there would be great difficulty in carrying out the proviso, he must remind him that his hon. Friend the Member for Roscommon (Mr. French) had pointed out that it was in practical operation in Canada, where the experience of fifty years had demonstrated that it was unattended with any difficulty. The only real difficulty in adopting it in Ireland lay in the fact that there the property was to pass from Catholics to Protestants, while in Canada it passed from Protestants to Roman Catholics. When the noble Lord told the Catholics to be afraid of pushing this principle too far, lest they might lose some of that liberality which they derived from the votes of that House in favour of their religion, he (Mr. Lucas) would suggest that the noble Lord must be treating the House to an ironical compliment that it did not very well deserve. Suppose that all future applications of the taxes to the support of any religious community were stopped, who would be the losers? Not the Catholics. They would, on the contrary, be gainers. They would accept the noble Lord's challenge, and would ask him to follow it up. They were quite ready to put a stop to all applications of the public money to religion, and to abide by the result. With respect to the Roman Catholic chaplains in the Army and Navy, the Catholics did not receive the commonest justice on these points. They gave to the Roman Catholics in the Army and Navy the most insignificant fraction of what he would not call justice, for it was rather an insult than anything else; and they refused them justice on every question in which the religious interests of the country were involved, and then told them (the Catholics) to be careful how far they pressed their claims, lest they should be losers.

Question put, "That those words be there inserted."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 71; Noes 92: Majority 21.


said, he now would beg to move an Amendment relative to the funds at the disposal of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, of which he had given notice. The income of the Commissioners had increased considerably during the last two years, and they had recently funded a large sum. Under these circumstances, he thought they ought rather to fall back upon their funds than to rely upon the imposition of rates.

Amendment proposed, at the end of the clause, to add the words:— Provided always, that on or before the 25th day of March in every year after the passing of this Act, it shall be ascertained by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for Ireland, and declared by them in the Dublin Gazette, what increase of income the said Commissioners have obtained during the year preceding the 25th day of March, by reason of the avoidance during the year of benefices or of bishoprics, or by reason of the increase of the tax payable from benefices and bishoprics; and the said increased amount of income in each year shall be deducted from the whole assessment to be levied as aforesaid off of the said eight cities and towns, and the Commissioners shall thereupon notify to the Collector General, to the Town Clerks, and Boards of Guardians aforesaid respectively, the proportion of the said reduced sum, which is to be collected in each city or town respectively, to be ascertained according to the proportion which the amount each said city or town has to pay the first year after the passing of this Act, bears to the entire sum to be levied the said first year and so on, every succeeding 25th day of March in every year, until the entire of said assessment is wholly reduced and extinguished.


said, that this was in principle the same Motion as his hon. Friend had already brought forward for the abolition of the tax; the only difference was, that in the one case it would cease gradually, and in the other immediately. His statements with respect to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners arose from a misapprehension. It was supposed that because the Ecclesiastical Commissioners had funded 40,000l., they had therefore saved that sum. But their Report showed that it was only put by until it was required for purposes to which it was already devoted. One of the most important objects in view at the time of the establishment of that Commission was the augmentation of small livings. Now, so entirely had their funds been exhausted hitherto, by repairs and other expenses, that not one small living had been augmented. There were in Ireland a great number of small livings under 100l. a year, and he thought it was not making a very exorbitant demand to ask that they should be augmented to 200l. a year. If, however, they agreed to this Amendment, that would be indefinitely postponed. On these grounds he must oppose the proposition of the hon. Member.


said, he should support the Amendment, on the ground that all the surplus funds in the hands of the Commissioners ought to be applied to- wards the diminution of this offensive tax.

Question put, "That those words be there added."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 76; Noes 95: Majority 19.


, said, he objected to compelling town councils and boards of guardians to collect taxes or stipends for ministers, as those bodies had been constituted for purposes of a very different description. He should therefore move that the clause be omitted.

Motion made, and Question put, "That the Clause as amended stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 99; Noes 72: Majority 27.

Clause agreed to, as were also Clauses 4 to 10 inclusive.


said, he would now beg to bring forward the clause of which he had given notice, which related to the compensation of the persons now employed in the collection of ministers' money.


said, he was of opinion that those collectors for whom the hon. Member opposite sought compensation stood precisely in a position similar to that in which the tithe proctors had been placed, with respect to the collection of tithes; yet in their case no compensation had been given by the Legislature. He thought the principle upon which the hon. Member asked the Committee to act was a bad one, and he could not therefore accord it his sanction.

Clause brought up, and read 1°

Motion made, and Question put, "That the said Clause be now read a second time."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 18; Noes 144: Majority 126.

House resumed. Bill reported.