HL Deb 25 March 1824 vol 10 cc1385-93
Lord Clifden

said, he had several petitions to present against the Irish Tithe Composition Act, and all those petitions concurred in one point, that of objecting to any compulsory clause. He might, perhaps, on this subject be permitted to say a few words to their lordships, as he it was who last year had proposed a compulsory clause; and he was now most happy that, on that clause, he had been defeated. The averages, as he had before stated to their lordships, had been fixed much too high by the bill, and if the compulsory clause had passed, its operation would have been dreadful. Tithes, he thought, were a necessary evil; at least, some mode was requisite for paying the clergy, and, therefore, the levying them should be made as little disagreeable as possible. His lordship then presented a petition from Durragh, in the county of Limerick, which, among other things, complained of the rector of that parish not living in it, and that the parish reaped no benefit from his exertions; a petition from another parish, which set forth that the church was in ruins, and the parishioners had no benefit from the clergyman they were obliged to pay; and a petition from Kilderry, in the county of Cork, also against any compulsory clause. This was a very old town, and it had also only the ruins of a church.

The Earl of Kingston

presented a petition from the parish of Bregaun, against introducing any compulsory clause into the bill; and also a petition from Balley-loch, in the county of Cork, on the same subject. On the question having been there agitated, a meeting of the vestry had been called to take the composition for tithes into consideration. Dr. Woodward, the rector of the parish, had demanded 2,000l., which was considerably more than the parish had averaged for five years, and it was thought that the people were under no necessity to pay more than the average. It had, indeed, been stated, that the doctor had made an offer of taking 1,600l., but he (lord K.), who was present in the vestry-room, had heard no such offer. In 1809, the reverend doctor had let the tithes for 1,600l., and the persons who had hired them of him lost 300l. by the business. Of course, therefore, the proposition of Dr. Woodward to accept 2,000l. was rejected. The parish necessarily objected to pay more than the tithes were worth, and the year that Dr. Woodward let them they only netted 1,400l. The reverend doctor, was not more moderate than the people who brought forward the bill; and who seemed to have had an idea of enriching the clergy at the expense of the landlords. So thought Dr. Woodward, and because his proposition was not acceded to, he had appointed to the parish the most rapacious tithe-proctor in the whole kingdom, who was known by the name of "the cruel Delaney."

The Bishop of Limerick

said, he held in his hand a letter, the contents of which obliged him to think, that the statements made in the petition just read were erroneous. He did not mean to say that the noble lord who presented the petition had any intention to misrepresent the facts of the case; but, from a long knowledge of Dr. Woodward, he was sure that he would not state, nor authorize him {the Bishop) to state, any thing which was not a matter of fact. There was a fallacy in bringing forward 1809 as a standard by which to estimate the value of the parish. That was the first year Dr. Woodward went to reside there, and it was proposed to him by his neighbour, Mr. Montgomery, on behalf of the parishioners, that the doctor should accede to a scheme unheard of before that time in the South of Ireland, and unprecedented throughout the whole of Munster; and this scheme was, to assess the tithes by three farmers of the different town-lands, and each farmer was to pay him his proportion of the town-lands in which he resided, so as to make up the sum of 1,600l. In consequence, however, of this unusual mode of levying tithes, many of them could not be recovered, and consequently the scheme was a failure. Dr. Woodward was able to prove, that the average of the parish, according to the rate fixed by the act of last session, was upwards of 2,000l. per year; and, though he had a right to this sum, he had expressed his readiness, at the meeting of the vestry, to accept of 1,600l. The noble lord had stated, that he did not hear this proposition. This might be the case, for many things were said daily in his own presence, which he did not hear. The right rev. prelate then read an extract from Dr. Woodward's letter, corroborating what he himself had stated. He afterwards referred to some statements made by a general Barry, which were at variance with one another; and observed, that he did not know whether he was to take the statement of the general as churchwarden, or in his other capacity, as most correct; but, in his character of landowner, he had an interest in the business. It had been a matter of regret with him, for years, to know that individuals were, as in this case, accused where they had no opportunity of defending themselves. As long as he had the, honour of possessing a seat in that House, he would protest against such a proceeding, as contrary to the principles of the British constitution, and dangerous in practice. It was sapping the foundation of that constitution, in the very place where the laws were made, and where they ought to be held most sacred. He would wish noble lords to take care, that charges which they brought forward against persons who could not defend themselves in that place, were well grounded. The accusation in the present case was particularly unjust; for a more pious, mild, and assiduous clergyman than Dr. Woodward, was not to be found. His upright and gentle conduct had secured him the affection of the poor; and, if the people of his own parish were called to give evidence respecting this rector, they would say, that they never had a more worthy clergyman among them. The question of the composition would have been settled without difficulty, if it had not been for persons who were interested in resisting the arrangement, and who wished to throw the great burthen of the tithes on the poor, instead of placing it on the shoulders of the landlords, where it ought to be laid.

The Earl of Kingston

hoped he should be permitted to say a few words, in reply to what had fallen from the right rev. prelate. He was not surprised at the manner in which the right reverend prelate had taken up this subject, as he was confident no act had ever passed that House, which the clergy liked better than this tithe-composition act. It had had the effect of producing a great addition to the income of the church; and that, indeed, not at the expense of the farmer, or of all classes generally, but solely at that of the landlords. On them the whole burthen fell. In consequence of this act, he had now to pay 168l. in tithes for his grounds. He had stated the circumstances which occurred at the vestry, some of which the right rev. prelate contradicted on the authority of Dr. Woodward's letter. The right reverend prelate was pleased to suppose that he might not have heard the doctor's offer; now, he must say that he was not further from that reverend person than the breadth of their lordships' table, and he would declare on his honour, that he never heard him offer to take 1,600l.

The Marquis of Lansdown

said, he knew nothing whatever of the part of the county, or of the individuals mentioned by the noble lord and the right rev. prelate, nor had he, in fact, any local knowledge whatever to entitle him to offer himself to their lordships' notice on the present occasion. But he was induced to rise, in consequence of what had fallen from the right rev. prelate in the course of his observations. He did this out of no disrespect to that right rev. prelate, for he had the highest respect both for his situation, and for his personal character, which intitled him, he had reason to believe, to respect in his own country; but, he felt it his duty to advert to some of the right rev. prelate's observations. In the course of his remarks, he had alluded to the influence exercised by the landowners to prevent a composition for tithes; and the right rev. prelate had stated this, as if it were a blameable use of this influence, and intended to cast the burthens from their own shoulders on those of others. Now, their lordships would remember what had passed on this subject last year. He had then shown, that disputes of this kind would arise, when that just influence to which the parties were entitled was exercised. If it were supposed, that this act was intended to prevent persons from exercising that just influence which the law and the constitution gave them—and God forbid that he should defend any unlawful influence—then it would be one of the most monstrous laws ever passed by a legislative assembly. He would ask their lordships whether they were not aware what the object of the act was? Was it not to divide the burthen equally? He was one who had felt it his duty to point out the intended compulsory measure, as one of the greatest interferences with the right of property ever attempted. To call on persons who held property tithe-free under the authority of an act of parliament (an authority equal to that on which the claim of the church was founded), to part with their property, was, in his opinion, most unreasonable; and so he had at the time stated it to be. The answer given was, that the compulsion, as applied to those persons exclusively, would be unjust; and therefore the means of making effectual resistance was to be given them by a number of votes. On this ground, then, he was warranted in saying, that these persons only exercised a right of voting to which they were legally entitled. Calls might be made on them for sacrifices, and he himself might be disposed to advise such sacrifices; but they were to be made only at their, own discretion, and for making them or not, they were accountable solely to themselves. To make individuals in the situation he had described liable to absolute compulsion, would be most unjust; it would be a breach of all the rights of property, and a violation of principle, which their lordships' House, as the chief guardian of property, never could sanction. There were, he hoped, many instances of willingness on the part of proprietors to make sacrifices without any necessity for the exercise of compulsion. He had said this much, because it was most desirable that the arrangement contemplated by the bill should be fairly carried into effect; but he deprecated any thing like partiality, or the appearance of injustice.

The Bishop of Limerick

said, their lordships must be aware, that he had not taken upon himself to impute any illegality or criminality to those landlords who opposed the arrangement intended by the act of parliament. As to the lawfulness of the opposition, he had nothing to say against it, however questionable its prudence might be. However, he certainly had not meant to say any thing to hurt the feelings of the landed proprietors of Ireland.

Lord King

said, that after hearing both sides, he could readily believe both what the noble lord had said, and what the right reverend prelate had stated of Dr. Woodward. But, if this conduct had been practised by a person who, according to the right reverend prelate's description, was the beau ideal of an Irish parson, what might not be done by the ordinary run of Irish parsons? What had been that night stated in the petition, was well worthy of their lordships' notice. The pulpits had resounded with recommendations to compound; the vestries had exhorted the parishes to compound with the Clergy; and the Clergy had threatened the parishioners, "if you do not compound, we will deliver you into the hands of the lawyers, and the lawyers shall give you up to the tormentors." There was in Ireland, then, a new species of tormentor, brought forward to work on the imaginations of the people. He should like to see as a great curiosity, or as a specimen of natural history worthy, of being preserved, this new Gorgon, this modern Chimera, "the cruel Delaney," who was thus employed by the most excellent of the whole of those divines who formed the most admirable of all Churches, the Church of Ireland.

The Earl of Harrowby

would not follow the observations of the noble lord, but would merely say, that if the Irish tithe proctor was to be brought to the bar, and exhibited there, he hoped he would be accompanied by the stewards of the landlords. As to what had fallen from the noble marquis, he must observe, that in completely exculpating the landlords who assembled at the vestry, from the charge of acting illegally, he had, in the same breath, exculpated the clergyman for proposing to his parishioners the terms he was willing to accept. Whether the terms were unreasonable or not, he was entitled to propose them. The legislature had given to him that right, as well as to the landlords the right of objection. He had always hoped that both parties would concur in carrying the act into effect, for the sake of the peace and tranquillity of the country; but, what he particularly regretted was, that both here and elsewhere, the names and characters of individuals should be made free with, and often when they had nothing to do with the point in discussion. Whether Dr. Woodward asked too little or too much for his tithes, was not a question for their lordships' decision. The House had no concern with it whatever. He called on the House to consider in what a situation they were placed, both as legislators and as gentlemen, in thus judging of individuals in their absence. From his heart he deprecated all such proceedings. He could conceive nothing more cruel or dangerous than thus to signalize individuals. The proctor who had that night been called "the cruel Delaney" would to-morrow go forth in that character to every part of the united kingdom, and being thus stigmatized, might find his life endangered by the opprobium here cast on him. With what feelings could they, as men and as gentlemen, encourage accusations made in this public manner, without the possibility of a public defence? He acquitted the noble earl of any intention to inflict injury on an individual; but he entreated the House to put a stop to so cruel a practice.

Lord Kingston

admitted that it was wrong to bring forward the names of individuals. It was not he who had christened the tithe proctor, "the cruel Delaney" but the rector himself. The man was too well known in the country where he lived, to receive any injury from any thing which might be said of him in that House. He had some other petitions now which he abstained from presenting, because a noble lord was absent who wished to take part in the discussion they would occasion. It was a general complaint in these petitions; that the rectors opposed the building of churches. He had one petition, which stated, that the rector had strongly opposed the building a church in the parish, although there was none, because it would diminish his income and give him some duty to perform.

The Earl of Limerick

said, he was president of a most respectable meeting of Irish noblemen and gentlemen, with whom the proposition for the Tithe Composition bill had originated. He had then thought it would be a good measure, and never meant to encourage a mischievous violation of the right of property. If the landowner was not to be free to consent to the composition, and if land, now tithe free, was to be forcibly compelled to pay tithes, there was an end to all justice. Such a proceeding would be tantamount to a dissolution of the Union.

Earl Grosvenor

expressed his conviction, that the bill could produce no other effect than that of agitating the country, and alluded to the compulsory clause as being peculiarly oppressive and objectionable. It was impossible, he maintained, that the tithe proctor could act in a fair and unprejudiced manner. The very constitution of the bishops' court, forbad it. They had all an interest on the side of the Church; and though he would not now detain their lordships with a description of the manner in which offices were filled in that court, he would remind them, that the judge himself was a clergyman appointed by the bishop, and that all the inferior officers were links of the same chain of dependence.

Lord Clifden

concurred fully in opinion with the noble earl, as to the constitution of those courts, and the partial character of the tithe proctors. It was a notorious fact, that they always concealed what the value of the tithe was, until the crop was taken off the ground; and then, if the wretched peasant resisted their estimate, he was summoned before the bishops' court, where the churchman and tithe owner was himself both judge and jury. It was a gross imposture to talk of such a proceeding as a measure of justice. The situation of Ireland was particularly grievous in this respect, ground down as she was by the demands of the clergy. There were two church establishments lying heavy on the people of Ireland; and the whole of this tithe system, with all its injustice, was kept up for the support of the Protestant church, though not more than half a million out of a population of seven millions three hundred thousand in that country were Protestants. He would ask the reverend bench of bishops, whether they could defend this—whether they could match it, by any example drawn from the history of the world? Ireland was in a situation similar to that of Scotland before the Revolution. In that country there had been assassinations too. Archbishop Sharp was assassinated; and the people fought up to their knees in blood, in resistance to the church which was imposed upon them. But king William settled the question in Scotland, and that country had since continued in a state of tranquillity and peace. The great misfortune of Ireland was, that she had two churches to maintain. This was a subject to which he had often alluded, and which he thought it his duty continually, he repeated it, to ring in their lordships ears.

Ordered to lie on the table.