§ MR. FAGAN
, moved for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Act of 17th & 18th Vic. c. 11, with a view to the abolition of Ministers' Money in Ireland. As he understood no opposition would be offered by the Government to his present Motion, he thought he should best consult the pleasure of the House by deferring any observations he might have to mate to another occasion.
§ MR. STAFFORD
, without resisting the introduction of the Bill, called upon the Government to declare their opinions upon it.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
Sir, I took the opportunity of last Session, when my hon. Friend brought this subject before the House, to state that the Government, after full consideration of the matter, were prepared to concur with his Motion. Some of the details of the Bill may possibly require alterations, but its principle we are ready to support
§ MR. DISRAELI
I understand the "principle" of the Bill is the abolition of ministers' money, a principle which has always been opposed by every Government within my recollection. Lord John Russell's Government opposed it; the Aberdeen Ministry opposed it; as did also the noble Lord himself, who even called it 282 a "principle of confiscation." However, this is not a fitting opportunity to enter into the discussion of the principle of this Bill. The best time for doing that is when we are prepared to divide; for when leave is asked to introduce a measure, and the required permission is conceded by the Government, that is not a convenient opportunity for canvassing its merits. But there is one observation on a Bill of this kind which I cannot now refrain from making. The importance of its principle cannot be exaggerated. In fact, if sanctioned, it will strike at the very root of all church property. The Bill, it seems, is approved and will be supported by the Government. Under these circumstances, is it not much better, when a measure involving a principle of such gravity is to be brought in, that it should be introduced by the Government itself? And if Her Majesty's Ministers have deemed it consistent with their duty to permit a private Member to bring forward a Bill on a subject of this magnitude, they are bound in fairness to this House and the country to take care that, its principle having been approved by them as Ministers, this House should have an early opportunity of expressing its opinion upon it. If a measure of this kind be left to a private Member of this House, the chances, as we have been told by the hon. Member for Surrey, are greatly against its ever being brought before the House for a definitive decision. I think, therefore, after the frank acknowledgment of the noble Lord that he approves the principle of the measure of the hon. Member for Cork, and that his Government intends to support it, the noble Lord is bound to make such arrangements that it should be brought speedily to a second reading, in order that the House may have an opportunity of expressing itself upon its policy. I myself shall certainly give to it an earnest opposition.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that it would be inconvenient to discuss this measure at present, and that it would be better to do so on the second reading. I will therefore not follow the right hon. Gentleman in the observation which he has made in opposition to the Bill. I will only say that we propose to do that which was stated by the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland at the close of last Session—namely, to act in accordance with the recommendation of a Committee of this House which sat in 1847. That Com- 283 mittee reported that the collection of these funds from house to house in the towns in which it is levied is so difficult, that it would be prudent to discontinue it.
Considering, then, the difficulty which has existed in the collection of the money, and the fact that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were bound to pay it, while they were unable to obtain repayment, the Corporation of Ireland ought to be exonerated from the duty of collection—a duty which they are unable or unwilling to perform, and which they could not be compelled to perform without a long litigation. I will merely add with regard to the introduction of this Bill that it is a measure which has been frequently brought before the House, and it would have been somewhat ungracious to take it out of the hon. Member's hands after he had given notice of it. With respect to the delay which it is said is likely to occur through the measure being left to a private Member, I can only say that, looking at the character of the Government business which is, or which shortly will be, before the House, and the time which may be occupied with the consideration of the Estimates, I believe the House will be called upon much sooner to pronounce an opinion upon this Bill by its being fixed for a Wednesday—a day which is open for the progress of Bills brought in by private Members—than if it were postponed to a Government day.
I think that Wednesday is the most inconvenient day that could have been fixed upon for the discussion of a measure of so much importance. I do not know whether the Secretary for Ireland made at the end of last Session the statement which is reported to have been made by him; but I believe that the accuracy of that reported statement has been admitted by the right hon. Gentleman himself. I am so informed from a communication which I have had with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who say they have been told that the right hon. Gentleman is prepared to admit in his place in the House of Commons the accuracy of that reported statement. At all events, when the discussion comes on, I shall be prepared to show that that statement is inaccurate in all its parts, as reported. The right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State for the Home Department upon two occasions, and while he held under Lord John Russell the office which he now holds, opposed the abolition of Ministers' Money. The Committee of 1848 did not report in 284 favour of its abolition. It reported that a substitute should be provided when the funds of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners should have so increased as to produce a margin applicable for the liquidation of this demand. The whole question is of deep importance. It involves a deep principle. It affects the Church of Ireland, and, consequently, the United Church of England and Ireland; but I shall reserve my observations till the second reading, on which occasion I think I shall be able to show a sufficient case for its entire rejection.
§ MR. HORSMAN
What I said was this—that the report of the statement which I made was correct in all its parts, but that if any one impugned the accuracy of what I said, and could show me in what respect I was inaccurate, I should be happy to receive his information, and to acknowledge my error in my place in Parliament.
One of the inaccuracies of the right hon. Gentleman is this—that he stated the margin of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners' funds to be £22,000 more than it really is.
§ MR. HENLEY
having briefly urged upon Lord Palmerston the great inconvenience of a Bill involving such important principles being discussed on a Wednesday,
§ Leave given.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. FAGAN and Mr. BEAMISH.
§ Bill presented, and read 1°.