HC Deb 19 February 1856 vol 140 cc999-1009

said, he rose to move that the House would resolve itself into a Committee to take into consideration the tax known as "Ministers' Money," in order that the said tax might be wholly abolished. He had so often brought the subject under the attention of the House that he would not then occupy much of its time, hut it would be only right upon his part to state clearly in what position the question had been placed by the Bill of Sir John Young passed in 1854. That measure was not, as had been alleged, a compromise between the Government and that party with which he had the honour of acting upon this question, nor did he believe that it was a compromise between Members of the Government who differed in opinion upon the subject. On former occasions, when he brought the question before the House, he had based his opposition to this tax on the objection that it was vexatious and irritating; that it was a test of religious ascendancy in the minority, and of religious inferiority in the majority. He also objected to the tax because it was partial as an impost. It was confined to eight towns in Ireland—and those, too, Roman Catholic towns—while other rich towns, like Belfast, where the Protestants were more numerous, were exempt from the collection. Now, Sir John Young's Act was an aggravation of both those grievances, and for that reason, because, not content with the impost as it stood before, it required the town councils to be the collectors of it—the tithe proctors of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. But the result of its effect was, that those town councils, with one accord, had resolved not to collect it; and, for the last year, they had collected none of it. Dublin, indeed, in that respect, was an exception, for there it had been collected; but there the town council were not required to be the collectors. However, the Lord Mayor of Dublin, a gentleman of Conservative tendencies, and strongly attached to the Church, had attended a meeting convened to protest against the tax, and, at that meeting, he had taken the lead in opposition to the tax. He might say that he had never known a greater agitation in Ireland—not excepting the famous tithe agitation, if he might compare great things with small—than that which existed during the last year in those eight towns against the tax in question. That argument which used to meet him about the existence of the tax for 200 years, and that the abolition of it would be a spoliation of the Church in favour of the owners of houses, into whose I pockets the money would go, could not now be raised, seeing it had been removed by the Act of 1854. Moreover, injury to the incumbents, which he for one never desired, and always had provided against, was no longer to be feared from the abolition of the tax, for they had been paid during the last year out of the fund of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The Protestants themselves were now strongly in favour of the repeal of this impost. He, therefore, maintained that such a payment out of the fund of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners was quite consistent with the Church Temporalities Act—indeed, that it was intended to have been included in it; for certain he was, if excluded, that then the £12,000 or £15,000 which was omitted from its provisions was more vexatious to those eight towns than the £70,000 which was provided for by the Act in question. The income of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners was very considerable, amounting, he believed, to very nearly £100,000 a year, and was every year increasing. He would admit that within the last two years their expenditure had also increased, for last year they had a surplus income of £12,000, in addition to a very large sum in hand, and he saw no reason why the House of Commons should not ask them to pay the incumbents, and thus relieve the Roman Catholic inhabitants of those towns from this highly objectionable tax. If the Government could adopt some plan for facilitating the sale of perpetuities, the funds of the Commissioners might be largely augmented. The estimated value of perpetuities yet unsold amounted to £600,000, which alone, if well administered, would be ample for the purposes to which the existing tax was applied. He did not know what course the Government intended to take that night, hut for himself he would say that he would persevere year after year until he succeeded in repealing the tax; but he must confess he should almost despair if the Government, under existing circumstances, refused to allow him to bring in the Bill. He could not believe that the noble Lord at the head of the Government, after he had given the hon. Baronet the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Sir W. Clay) permission to introduce his Church Rates Bill, which would interfere with the large sum of £600,000, would object to his bringing forward this Bill, which involved a question of only £12,500, especially as the noble Viscount was bound by the pledge which was given by the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) at a time when he was one of the Members of that noble Lord's Government. On that occasion, the present Chief Secretary for Ireland supported his Motion. All the law officers in Ireland also tendered it their support, and he believed that, if he now went to a division, he should receive the votes of a very large majority of the Irish Members.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed— That this House will immediately resolve itself into a Committee, to consider the Act 17 & 18 Vict. c. 11, with the view of amending the same, so far as respects the Tax thereby enacted to be levied in eight Corporate Towns in Ireland, in lieu and substitution of 'Ministers' Money,' in order that the said Tax may be wholly abolished.


said, he must admit that his hon. Friend (Mr. Fagan) was fully entitled to the character he had claimed for himself of having always been an honest and straightforward agitator on this question, and that his agitation had been accompanied by a considerable degree of moderation and good sense that had commanded a success which agitation did not always carry with it in that House. With regard to his consistency, also, he readily admitted that the hon. Member had been perfectly consistent in having taken no part in that which he termed a compromise—namely, the Act known as Sir John Young's, and which he now asked the House to amend. He (Mr. Horsman) thought, however, that it would be inconvenient to follow his hon. Friend through all his criticisms on the present law, his remarks on the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and the remedy he proposed for altering a law which he stated was not satisfactory. Thus for he would say, that, as regarded the operation of the existing law, it was not satisfactory. He quite agreed with him that in some respects the Act required amendment; but he did not think it was necessary that he should go further, and state in what respect it required amendment, or whether he could concur in the views expounded by his hon. Friend with regard to the manner in which he would have it amended, or as to the ultimate object he had in view—the total repeal of the tax. His hon. Friend had stated distinctly that in his opinion the tax should no longer be levied in the present manner, but that it should be provided for out of the funds of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. That was evidently a subject upon which they could not now enter. The discussion upon the proposal would come more properly on the second reading of the Bill, if the House chose to permit its introduction, and agreeing, therefore, on the part of the Government, to allow his hon. Friend to introduce a measure with a view to amend the Act of the 17 & 18 Vict. he would reserve any observations which he might have to make in regard to the ultimate proposal until the second reading, when the whole question might be fully and satisfactorily considered and discussed.


said, he must confess that the course adopted by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had taken him altogether by surprise, because when the Government were asked the other night if they had any measure in contemplation with regard to the Act respecting Ministers' Money, the answer was shortly and emphatically "None." [Mr. HORSMAN said, he had never given any such answer.] He did not say the right hon. Gentleman gave that answer; but when the Government were asked the other night if they had any measure in contemplation with regard to the Act respecting ministers' money, the answer was very emphatically—"None." Whatever were the inconveniences of working that Act, of course the Government must be aware of them; and if, seeing an evil to exist, they had themselves no remedy to propose, but allowed a private Member to bring forward a measure, the discussion upon which they reserved until the second reading, when, in all probability, it would be got rid of for another year, he put it to the good sense of the right hon. Gentleman and the noble Lord at the head of the Government, whether there was any more effectual way, especially with respect to a question which affected ecclesiastical property, of keeping open a running sore, and of perpetuating discord and animosity. He contended that it was an unworthy and unmanly course of proceeding, and that whatever the Government thought to be fair and right, they should have come forward in a manly way and proposed it, and then have left the House to discuss it fairly and say "aye" or "no" to the proposition. Let the House observe how the matter stood. The measure was introduced in 1854; and who introduced it? Sir John Young and the present Attorney General for Ireland, then Solicitor General for Ireland. Subsequently, however, the names were changed, and that of the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston), at the time Secretary of State for the Home Department, was placed on the back of the Bill, in lieu of that of the Solicitor General for Ireland; but the hon. and learned Gentleman gave his support to the Bill throughout. Hero, then, was a Bill passed two years ago, when the noble Lord was Home Secretary, to settle the question upon certain terms, which were at the time thought proper and convenient terms: and now in the beginning of the year 1856, the noble Lord was prepared to allow a Bill to be introduced by a private Member for unsettling the whole of that arrangement. What he wished to observe was this, that the course taken by the Government was an inconvenient and unmanly course; and that he said without meaning the slightest disrespect towards them, but only to speak his mind in plain, hut not uncourteous language. If any inconvenience had arisen in the working of the Act, the proper party to bring forward an amended measure was the Government itself. He granted that the arrangement with regard to the town councils might not, perhaps, have been well considered; but an alteration on that point was not the real object of the Mover of the Resolution. Suppose they changed the hands that received the money, did they believe that that would settle the question? [Cries of "No, no!"] But if that was to be the settlement of the question, surely the Government ought to have proposed it. He did not accuse the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Horsman) of inconsistency, for he was not in office at the time Sir John Young's Bill passed; but the noble Lord at the head of the Government, who was Home Secretary at the time, seconded the Motion for the second reading, and his name was on the back of the Bill. He remembered the noble Lord on the occasion putting the argument in this way:— This tax, said he, was a charge upon property; the large proportion of the owners in fee of the houses which were assessed to the tax were Protestants, and he thought it would be hardly fair to relieve those wealthy Protestants from the charge. If the Bill were allowed to be brought in, it would lead to great disappointment, and again ho repeated that the course taken by the Government was not one that was cither creditable or manly.


said, he agreed with the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Napier) that it would have been more creditable to the Government if they had themselves brought in a Bill to amend the Act of 1854, supposing it required amendment, than to have endeavoured to avail themselves of a measure introduced by a private Member to effect that object. The question of Ministers' Money was one of great annoyance to the inhabitants of the eight corporate towns where the tax was levied, and what the Government ought to have done was to introduce a measure for its total abolition at once.


said, he must, in common with his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin, express his astonishment at the course the Government had announced its intention to pursue, and thought, that if the Government sanctioned the introduction of a Bill the object of which was to upset what was regarded as the settlement of an important question two years ago, they should now be prepared to say fairly and frankly how they proposed to deal with that question. The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland had stated that Sir John Young's Act did not work satisfactorily; and surely the right lion. Gentleman ought to be able to inform the House in what respect he conceived that to be the case, and to show in what way he would amend it. But the Resolution of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Fagan) went a great deal further than the Chief Secretary seemed disposed to go, for the last line of that Resolution stated that the object was to accomplish the entire abolition of the tax, and the hon. Mover and Seconder had both frankly declared that they would be disinclined to support any measure that had not that object. He thought, therefore, the House was entitled to hear from the noble Lord (Viscount Paltnerston), who was a party to the settlement of 1854, whether it was the intention of the Government to support the entire repeal of the tax, or whether it was merely intended to propose a Bill which should have for its object an alteration in the mode of levying the tax. He (Lord Naas) regretted exceedingly that the question had been reopened. He believed that it had been settled in a satisfactory manner, and seeing that such a number of grievances complained of by the hon. Member for Cork had been removed by that settlement, he could not help saying that it was rather premature, at the end of two years only, to come down and propose to reopen the question in this way. At all events, the Government should be prepared to state clearly what course they intended to take respecting it.


Sir, with regard to the unmanliness of not opposing a Bill upon its first introduction, and reserving one's views upon it for the second reading, the right hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Napier) may entertain peculiar opinions; it is sufficient for me to say that I do not entirely agree with him. As to the zeal with which ho and his friends have prepared to resist the Bill, I may appeal to the benches opposite. [The noble Lord alluded to the small number of Members present upon the Opposition side of the House.] They afford a striking proof of the real sincerity and earnestness with which the friends of the right hon. and learned Gentleman have prepared to support the Government in the course which they say it is unmanly not to take, namely, opposition to the introduction of the Bill. Certainly, if we had intended to resist the Motion, it is quite clear that we should have received the extreme and cordial support of the numerous gentlemen now sitting upon those benches. Then the right hon. and learned Gentleman says, "Oh, you ought to have refused permission to bring in the Bill on the simple ground that this question ought to be settled once for all." This is not the first time we have heard language of that kind. I am old enough to remember many occasions upon which this House has been urged for similar reasons to refuse to permit the introduction of measures for the relief of the Roman Catholics. But does the right hon. and learned Gentleman imagine that it matters much upon what stage of a measure the House arrives at a decision with regard to it? Does he imagine that there is any particular virtue in a refusal to permit a Bill to be brought in, which does not attach to a refusal to allow it to be read a second time? The right hon. and learned Gentleman will have just the same means of enforcing his opinions by argument upon the second reading as upon the introduction of the Bill. We think it more respectful to those whose feelings are interested in this question to allow the measure to be brought in, than to reject it at once; but we reserve to ourselves full and entire liberty to take upon the second reading whatever course we think it best and most expedient to adopt.


said, the noble Lord at the head of the Government had stated, that it was a matter of no consequence whether the decision of the House was pronounced on the introduction of the Bill, or on the second reading. Now the object of the Resolution was, the total and entire abolition of the tax, and he did not understand from the Chief Secretary for Ireland that he was prepared to support a measure of that kind. He merely said, that he was disposed to admit that the working of the Act had not been satisfactory, and that the measure might he amended. By that, he (Admiral Jones) presumed the right hon. Gentleman meant to say that, possibly, the money which had to be collected under the Act, might be collected in some other way than at present, and not that the tax should be entirely abolished. But the Resolution of the hon. Member for Cork (Mr. Fagan) went to its entire abolition, and if he consented to the Resolution, he considered that as an honest man he should be bound to vote for the Bill.


Sir, I think, with regard to the form of this Motion, that it is generally inconvenient to pass Resolutions, from which it may appear that the House had made up its mind as to the questions to which they relate. In dealing with certain questions, we are forced to take that course in order to introduce a Bill, but in this case no necessity of the kind exists, and such a course would naturally give rise to misapprehension and induce many persons out of doors to think that the House had come to a resolution to abolish this tax. I would, therefore, suggest to the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Fagan), without at all disapproving the view taken by the Government, that leave ought to be given to bring in a Bill with regard to Ministers' Money in Ireland, that it would be more convenient for him simply to move for leave to bring in a Bill in order to abolish that tax. No doubt, upon the second reading we shall hear from the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for Ireland what his views are with respect to the substance of the question. I had hoped that the measure prepared by Sir John Young would have been satisfactory, but I am sorry to hear both from the hon. Gentleman who brought forward the Motion, and from the right hon. Gentleman below me (Mr. Horsman), that it has not. If that be the case, it would then be the duty of Government to propose some Bill to amend the defects in the present law. Upon the second reading of the measure, we shall no doubt hear their views on the subject, but I hope the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Fagan) will now adopt the course I have suggested.


said, that Sir John Young's Act, so far from being satisfactory, was protested against by every corporation in Ireland affected by it. Numerous petitions were presented against it, and he and his friends remained in the House night after night for the purpose of defeating it. Sir John Young, in proposing it, was actuated by the mischievous spirit of wishing to carry out his own proposals in spite of every remonstrance. He (Mr. Maguire) wished to express his extreme dissatisfaction at the statement of the right hon. Secretary for Ireland. The Government were expected to take some decisive step, and it was not manly or straightforward on their part to refuse to deal with the question, and to leave it in the hands of a private Member. If the right hon. Gentleman attempted to cobble up the miserable abortion of Sir John Young, he would signally fail, for the people of Ireland would spurn and resist it. They would not be satisfied with the amendment of the present law, they desired its total abolition.


said, he must confess that the statement made by the Secretary for Ireland had disappointed him, for he had not expected that the right hon. Gentleman would have been insensible to the deep feeling which this tax had produced, not only in the particular towns where it was imposed, but generally throughout Ireland. On the day when the deputation waited on the right hon. Gentleman, several hon. Members of that House, unconnected with corporate towns in Ireland, voluntarily attended, in order to impress on the mind of the right hon. Gentleman the necessity of settling this question. He had heard with deep pain the speech made by the right hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Napier) that evening, and he was sure that, if that right hon. and learned Gentleman were acquainted with the oppression which the tax caused in the city he (Mr. Sullivan) had the honour to represent, the right hon. and learned Gentleman would be the last to advocate it. In the last valuation, the clergyman in one of the parishes of that; city, anticipating what might occur by reason of the passing of a Bill on the subject, took care to value property which had never before been brought under the imposition of the tax, and raised his income 40 or 50 per cent. Was that the species of justice which the right hon. and learned Gentleman advocated, and was that the sort of tax which he claimed as property for the Established Church? He would tell the Government that the Catholic population of the taxed cities were determined by every legal and constitutional means in their power to resist the imposition. He could only characterise the Bill introduced by Sir J. Young on this subject last Session as abominable, and declared that it produced universal dissatisfaction. The people of Ireland, particularly the Catholic portion, expected that the noble Lord at the head of the Government, who owed his position in that House to no particular party, but to the universal assent of the people of England and Ireland, would have on this occasion shown some sympathy with the people oppressed by this tax, and would have, to a certain degree, made his Government memorable by announcing in an honest and manly way the total repeal of the abominable imposition.


said, that, in consequence of what he had heard in the course of the debate, he should withdraw his Motion for a Committee, and move at once for leave to bring in a Bill for the total abolition of Ministers' Money in Ireland.


said, he wished to observe, when he heard hon. Members denouncing this odious tax, which was imposed on eight cities in Ireland, that a similar odious tax was imposed on two cities in Scotland, one of which he had the honour to represent, and it was called the Annuity Tax. He trusted, therefore, that if the Ministers' Money were repealed in Ireland, there would also he a repeal of the Annuity Tax in Scotland, for what was good for one country would be good for the other.

Motion by leave withdrawn.

Bill to amend the Act 17 & 18 Vict. c. 11, with a view to the abolition of the Tax thereby imposed in lieu of Ministers' Money in Ireland, ordered to be brought in by Mr. PAGAN and Mr. BEAMISH.

Bill read 1°.