§ On the Motion of Viscount Melbourne, the Clerk read the following passage from his Majesty's Speech:—"In parts of Ireland a systematic opposition has been made to the payment of Tithes, attended in some instances with afflicting results; and it will be one of your first duties to inquire whether it may not be possible to effect improvements in the laws respecting this subject, which may afford the necessary protection to the Established Church, and at the same time remove the present causes of complaint. But on this, and every other question affecting Ireland, it is above all things necessary to look to the best means of securing internal peace and order, which alone seems wanting to raise a country blessed by Providence with so many natural advantages to a state of the greatest prosperity."
§ Viscount Melbourne
then spoke nearly as follows:—I rise to address your Lordships, in obedience to that part of his Majesty's most gracious Speech which has just been read, and to follow up the consequences to which it leads, by requesting your Lordships to authorize the appointment of a Select Committee to consider the system by which the collection and payment of Tithes is regulated in Ireland. This is a motion to which, recollecting the unanimity with which your Lordships agreed to the Address to his Majesty, in answer to his Speech, I anticipate little or no opposition, though I feel as much as any one can the difficulty and the importance of the subject to which I would, upon the present occasion, draw the attention of the House. I feel, that the question of tithes has created more animosity in private, and given occasion to more open violence than, perhaps, any other subject which has agitated the minds of the people of Ireland. In entering, then, upon this preliminary stage of the proceeding which I intend to lay before the House, I trust I shall do so with all the coolness, and caution, and circumspection, befitting such an 230 occasion; and I earnestly hope that every noble Lord who engages in the discussion may be induced to preserve the same tone. It is unnecessary for me to state to your Lordships, for the circumstance must be well known to you, that the collection of tithes in Ireland has been the source of great violence—has been productive of much outrage, and has given rise to heats and animosities, which many years, and much judicious legislation, will be scarcely sufficient to allay. It must be well known to your Lordships, as, indeed, it is to almost every man in the country, that many of the disturbances which, under various denominations, have interfered with the well-being and the peace of Ireland, may be traced to a resistance to the payment of tithes. It is also scarcely necessary for me to observe, that, in the year 1822, the last important disturbances which took place there, gave occasion to the introduction, in the following year, and the adoption by the Legislature, of the well-known Tithe Composition Act. Your Lordships must be well aware that that Act was attended with success, produced considerable advantage to the country, and gave general satisfaction to a large proportion of the people. I remember that while I held office in that country, I had my attention drawn particularly to the subject, and I can certainly aver, that the result of my observations left no doubt on my mind that it was productive of the most beneficial effects. From what has recently occurred in Ireland, there can, I presume, be now very little question that there prevails in that country a systematic opposition to the payment of tithes, and that in the Queen's county, as well as in parts adjacent, it is in vain that any attempt is made on the part of the clergy to recover tithes—it is in vain that they distrain, for no goods seized under a distress can be sold. This state of things has, in too many instances, reduced the clergy to a state of the utmost possible distress. The consequence of these circumstances is, that his Majesty's Government have felt the propriety of instituting an inquiry into the causes of this unfortunate state of things. If this were owing to any spirit of lawless violence, a satisfactory answer might be at once given to all inquiries on the subject; but it must be obvious that no such spirit is sufficient to account for the regular, systematic, indomitable opposition to tithes which prevails in Ireland. We want, then, to ascertain whence it does arise, and that will 231 be one great object for which I propose to ask your Lordships to appoint a Committee. The questions which will naturally come under the consideration of the Committee are, whether the evils arising from the tithe system are attributable solely to the mode of their collection, whether to the imperfect or partial operation of the Tithe Composition Act, or to other causes not comprehended in either of these. I may here observe, incidentally, that one of the reasons why the Tithe Composition Act was so limited in its operation is, that the tithe of agistment renders it partial. Again, another source of the obstructions which the Composition Act has had to encounter, is to be found in the fact, that though the parishioners and the incumbents have in many parishes agreed to avail themselves of the provisions of the Act, yet the Diocesan—doubtless in the exercise of a sound discretion—has refused his consent; many parishes are, therefore, left to all the evils of the ancient system, and the Proctor and his attendants are allowed to proceed with the license, which, in the worst times, marked the proceedings of this class of functionaries. The result has been, that the sound parts of Ireland have been infected by the unsound, and the odium that the old system of collection alone ought to occasion, has extended itself to tithes themselves. I shall, with the permission of the House, read a passage from a letter, which has been supplied to me by my right hon. friend, the Secretary for Ireland:—"I am confirmed in the views I have above offered to your consideration, from the fact that even in the disturbed districts of Clare and Galway, where composition was early and readily adopted throughout the extensive districts of the dioceses of Clonfert, Kilmacduagh, and Killaloe, as yet no opposition has been generally made to the payment of composition rent; but it has been invariably considered as a boon and a blessing to all parties. It is not so, however, in the county of Carlow, King's county, Queen's county, Kilkenny, and part of Tipperary; in fact, through the finest lands of the kingdom, where composition has slowly and reluctantly progressed." This, my Lords, I look on as a very excellent authority on this matter, and the fact of a different feeling on the subject of Tithes existing in different districts, undoubtedly makes out a strong case for inquiry. Another of the greatest evils attached to the condition and administra- 232 tion of Church property in Ireland, has its origin in the extreme subdivision of the ecclesiastical rights over it; the nature of which right it is impossible I can so well express as is expressed in another part of the same letter. The writer says, "The broken and irregular character of tithes, in the rust of its great antiquity, renders the variety and number of claims on the land both harassing and vexatious; the frequency of calls, and the uncertainty of receivers, are so varied and perplexing, as to occasion much annoyance to the poor. There are a vast number of instances in my own parish, where one poor man, whose whole tithes annually do not amount to more than 1s. 8d. per annum, and yet subject him to have his cow, sheep, pig, or horse, taken and driven to pound six times in the year for tithes, and liable, on each and every driving, to a charge of 2s. 6d. driver's fees, besides expense of impounding, and waste of time from his labour in seeking the person duly authorised to give him a receipt. He is liable to be summoned, moreover, and decreed for vestry cess, once in the year, making annually seven calls, on account of the Church, for his little plot of ground; besides, his little holding is liable to two calls in the year for Grand Jury public money, and frequently two calls more for Crown and quitrent. Thus, eleven calls are made upon his small holding in the year, besides his landlord's rent, and for sums trifling in themselves, but perplexing and ruinous in the costs which attend them. Surely such are hardships that ought to be removed. Throughout the diocese of Clonfert and Kilmacduagh, in which this parish is situated, the Bishop takes one-fourth of every titheable acre of land. The county is very much broken up amongst cottier tenantry, holding small plots of an acre each, with a cabin or cottage upon it; the whole diocese is compounded for at an average rate of about 1s. per acre." Your Lordships will now see, that if ever there was a case which called for legislative interference, the present is that case. Here we have a system which imperatively calls for the tithes due to the Bishop, to the Rector, the Vicar, the Prebend, and the Vicars Choral. It may be said, perhaps, that the case referred to is only a local evil, limited in its operation, and confined in its extent; but what is the fact? It spreads throughout the whole diocese of Clonfert, which includes a large portion of the large county of Galway. The Bishop, 233 it appears, is entitled to one-quarter of the tithes, which amounts to 1s. an acre, and the consequence of this and other circumstances of a like nature is, that the greatest possible difficulty takes place in the collection of the tithes; that none but persons of low character, prepared to take every unworthy advantage, will engage in the collection of them. Such a state of things, I hesitate not to affirm, demands inquiry at our hands, with a view to the adoption of some measure calculated to remedy the evil, which has been so long and so loudly the subject of complaint. I think it is now unnecessary for me to trouble your Lordships with entering further into detail. I think I have stated quite enough to satisfy any impartial man that we ought to go into a Committee. If his Majesty's Ministers were in possession of the necessary information, and felt themselves prepared to lay before Parliament an adequate remedy for the evil which has been made the subject of complaint, I feel that it would be needless for me to trouble the House with a motion for the appointment of a Committee, but the Government does not find itself in that situation. A noble Lord has, on a former occasion, stated, that the Clergy were neither exorbitant nor extortionate in their demands, neither did there exist on the part of the people any very strong indisposition to pay to the Clergy that which was their undoubted and legal right. To meet the wishes of both parties, and secure their rights, it will be part of the business of the Committee to collect, arrange, and examine the evidence which can be adduced on this subject. The Committee will further have to consider how far it will be expedient to extend to all, or, if not to all, to what parts of Ireland, the Composition Act, enforcing it compulsorily, or whether it will not be wise to entitle the tenant to present a receipt for tithe to his landlord, as payment of his rent pro tanto, or whether we ought to look to a larger and more comprehensive measure, which will secure to the Clergy a broader basis on which to rest their incomes, and to the people that relief from the pressure of the impost which the necessity of the case demands. For instance, facilities may be created for the gradual redemption of the tithes, the sums to be procured by such redemption being applied to the formation of a fund for the maintenance of the Clergy of the Irish Church. I believe it will not, at the present moment, be contended that we have any time 234 to lose—I believe it will be admitted that the emergency is pressing in the last degree—I believe that no noble Lord will say we ought to hesitate in applying instant means of protection and defence when the thunder threatens us over head, and the earthquake rocks the ground on which we stand. I hope, then, that the course which we have resolved to take—and that which I sincerely believe is the only course left to us—will have the effect of establishing that peace and tranquillity, of which Ireland stands so much in need—that some measure will be devised to reconcile animosities, diffuse contentment, clear up difficulties, give scope for enlightened benevolence, and for the maintenance of equal, impartial, and just laws. My Lords, I beg leave to move, "that a Select Committee be appointed, to inquire into the collection and payment of Tithes in Ireland, the state of the laws relating thereto, and to report their observations thereon to the House."
§ The question having been put,
The Earl of Wicklow
said, in the few observations which he should think it his duty to offer to their Lordships upon the present occasion, he had no intention of opposing the Motion of the noble Viscount, or of saying any thing which could tend to defeat the object which he had in view. But he must confess, that in listening to the speech of the noble Viscount, he had been considerably disappointed. He did expect when he came down to the House, that he should have obtained some insight into the objects and intentions of his Majesty's Government with respect to Ireland. He would not conceal, that the reference to Ireland in his Majesty's Speech had given him great satisfaction—the greater satisfaction, inasmuch as he had previously entertained the apprehension that his Majesty's Ministers were not sufficiently alive to the present dangerous and unfortunate situation of that country. He had accordingly come to England at the commencement of the Session, with the fixed determination of calling the attention of that House to the subject, if this important duty should not be undertaken by any body else. He could confidently state, that the noble Viscount had not exaggerated the difficulty which existed in the collection of tithes, nor had his description nearly come up to the extent of the evil. He could state, that many clergymen of great respectability, men of talents and education, were at this moment in a state of utter destitution, and were compelled to 235 subsist, with their families, like the common peasant, upon potatoes and milk. The resistance to the payment of tithes, however, was not so general as the noble Lord had described it. It extended only throughout one very populous district—the diocese of Dr. Doyle, the titular Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin. He did not conceive, that the peasantry of Ireland had any rooted aversion to the payment of tithe. Formerly the tithe was yielded with more alacrity by the Roman Catholics of Ireland, than by the members of the Established Church or the Presbyterians. The imposition was, in point of extent, nothing like that of the tithe in this country. Many of the clergy of Ireland were content with the tithe of their tithes. But the resistance to the collection of tithes was to be ascribed principally, to the writings and speeches of persons disaffected to the Government of England, and when he mentioned the name of Dr. Doyle as the chief of these, he hoped he should not be accused of vilifying a person whom he had formerly defended, when he thought him unjustly attacked. The work of the gentleman to which he particularly alluded, contained the following paragraph:—"The Irish people, since their first conversion to the Christian faith, always understood rightly the Gospel dispensation. They were always too rational and too acute to submit willingly to an unreasonable, I might add, an unjust imposition; and the law of tithe, whether civil or ecclesiastical, has never had, either in Catholic or Protestant times—no, not to the present hour—the assent or consent of the Irish nation. They have always been at war with it, and I trust in God will never cheerfully submit to it.'' There was also this other passage in Dr. Doyle's work—"There are many noble traits in the Irish character mixed with failings, which have always raised obstacles to their own well-being; but an innate love of justice, and an indomitable hatred of oppression, is like a gem upon the front of our nation, which no darkness can obscure. To this fine quality I trace their hatred of tithe. May it be as lasting as their love of justice!" Now this was part of an able and elaborate essay on another subject—the state of the poor. And why, he would ask, had the right rev. gentleman left the subject he had treated so ably, to throw this new ingredient into the cauldron of national calamity? Whatever might have been his motives, the effect upon the people to whom the language was addressed, was such 236 as might be expected from the learning, ability, high station, and great influence of its author. Another cause of the resistance to tithe, and of every other evil which afflicted Ireland, was the speeches of professed democrats and agitators in that country. In the course of the Session before the last, a noble Duke, now unfortunately absent from indisposition, had put a question to the noble Earl at the head of the Government. He had asked if it was the intention of the noble Earl to revive the law against Political Associations. The answer of the noble Earl was in the affirmative. But one Session and another had passed, and no such law had been introduced. He was utterly at a loss to know what had taken place in Ireland to account for the noble Earl's change of opinion, as to the necessity of suppressing agitation. But, in truth, he ascribed the omission to change of policy rather than to change of opinion: His Majesty's Government knew, that one individual was principally the cause of agitation, and that individual they hoped to gain over to the cause of the Government. By this time, probably, his Majesty's Ministers had discovered that the apple of discord might be thrown with as much effect from under a silk, as from under a stuff gown, and having found, that they had no sop which would appease that great Cerberus of agitation, he trusted they would now tear him, by the arms of law, from that hell of which he was the guardian and the ruler. But, whatever policy Government might pursue with respect to the agitation, he hoped, at least, the noble Earl would decisively contradict the insinuation of which the agitator was not sparing, that it had only rested with himself to accept or refuse a place under the Government, of great trust, value, and importance. The noble Earl might think this insinuation ought only to be treated with silent contempt. But it seemed to him, that it was due to the character of the Government—that it was due to the feelings of the country—that it was due to every man who filled or aspired to the station of a Statesman, that this injurious insinuation thould be promptly and unequivocally repelled. For himself, he freely confessed, that he did not believe it. He never could believe, that any Government could so far dishonour and degrade itself, and so outrage the feelings of the community, as to offer high and honourable office to an individual who had just escaped from public justice, and who had 237 not undergone the punishment of a criminal, only because he had much skill and dexterity in evading the law. In that part of the King's Speech which immediately followed the paragraph referred to by the noble Viscount, was a sentence to the following effect:—"But in this, as in every other question affecting Ireland, it is above all things necessary to look to the best means of securing internal peace and order; which alone seem wanting to raise a country blessed by Providence with so many natural advantages, to a state of the greatest prosperity." This was an assertion to which he most cordially assented, for a more undoubted truth had never been embodied in a similar document, and he was happy to perceive, that the conviction of Government seemed to be so very clear upon the subject. How was the peace of any country to be preserved, if agitators were to be rewarded and encouraged? The truth of the maxim was irresistible, and he rejoiced that the Government was sensible of it. He hoped that Ministers would labour, not only to counteract the evil which their Motion had in view, but to remove from Ireland the greatest evil and the source of every other, that influence of demagogues to which no country could ever patiently submit. It was known, that at this moment, a counteraction had taken place in Ireland. The loyal portion of the community—he did not say the Protestant portion, for he hoped all the loyalty of Ireland was not confined to the Protestants—had entered into an Association for the protection of their rights and the maintenance of the law. They felt that when bad men were allowed to combine, good men must associate. For himself, he could say, that he had never belonged to any Political Association. But if the demagogues and agitator's were permitted to pursue their mischievous career, he should not shrink from doing what in that case would be his duty. The noble Viscount had suggested several propositions as fit to engage the attention of the Committee, but he did not say, that he would propose any one of them as a substantive measure to the Legislature. With respect to one of the most beneficial suggestions of the noble Viscount, he believed he was precluded from proposing it. He alluded to the incorporation of tithe with rent. Upon this very subject, upon a former occasion, when the topic was introduced elsewhere, the noble Lord's colleague, the right hon. Secretary for Ireland, had pronounced a 238 decided opinion in opposition to any such attempt. His words were, that to make the landlords liable for the payment of tithe, would be a positive injustice. He did not mean to say, that the Government had not done its duty in one respect with regard to the collection of tithe. Military and police force they had always granted when necessary. But while they put down resistance by these means on the one hand, they excited it on the other. If, as he understood, two individuals who had attempted to excite a mob to resist the collection of tithes, on being convicted, were forthwith discharged, this might be called mercy, but it was mercy at the expense of justice and sound policy. Again, with respect to the author of the letter which he had introduced to their Lordships' notice, instead of prosecuting that individual for his seditious and mischievous libel, or calling upon him to counteract its tendency by some subsequent publication, they permitted him to be exhibited in the face of the country as the friend, the associate, and the councillor of the Lieutenant of the King. If the Government meant to prevent anarchy in Ireland, this was not the course it ought to pursue. A crisis was evidently at hand, if the agitators should be longer suffered to pursue their destructive career. He hoped such a crisis might yet be averted; but if it came, he had no fear of the result. He could have none when he saw the wealth, the intelligence, the loyalty of the country on one side, and ignorant multitudes, led on by factious demagogues on the other. But he did fear what must occur in the mean while—he did fear the suffering which such a struggle, as he foresaw, must inflict during its progress upon the country. He began by stating, that he did not mean to say any thing for the purpose of embarrassing or annoying his Majesty's Government. He never should make the tithe, or any other question relating to the internal welfare of Ireland, the means of opposition to any set of Ministers. The Government had difficulties enough to contend with. They had to struggle against the powerful and legitimate opposition in that and the other House of Parliament. But the opposition they had chiefly to fear was, the insidious opposition of persons pretending to be their friends, and who supported the Administration by doing every thing that was calculated to bring discredit upon its character and its measures, and who would struggle for nothing more ardently than to prevent every recommendation 239 of the Committee the House was now about to appoint from producing its desired effect.
§ The Marquis of Clanricarde rose to vindicate the Irish Government from the charge that they had countenanced the sedition which the noble Earl had ascribed to the author of the pamphlet alluded to. In representing the pamphlet to be of the character described, he was assuming too much, for the law officers of Ireland, it appeared, had not borne him out in his opinion, or recommended Government to prosecute its author. He would put it to the noble Earl, whether he was acting fairly in bringing forward charges against the conduct of Ministers towards Ireland, just at the moment when the noble Viscount was taking the first step for securing the tranquillity of that country, and establishing its Church upon a solid basis in the affections of the people? He desired to see the Protestant Church prosper in Ireland, but it could never prosper by pressing on the labouring poor, and intercepting the hard-earned pittance which was essential to the subsistence of the industrious peasant. The noble Earl had made allusion to democrats as having derived encouragement from the countenance of Government. Now it so happened that Dr. Doyle and Mr. O'Connell, the two agitators mentioned, were, at the present moment, at daggers drawn. From an animosity between such parties, the public, he supposed, would not suffer much disadvantage; but the fact of the dissension made it, at least, unlikely that Government was on terms of friendly intercourse with both parties. If, however, Ministers were to be reproached with having consulted Dr. Doyle, he might ask, why had that distinguished prelate been summoned before both Houses of Parliament? Why should their reference to the man who had been consulted, as it were, by Parliament, on account of his abilities, thus be made matter of inculpation? Was it not on account of his brilliant talents, extensive experience, and profound erudition, that he was summoned to London? Surely the same reasons would form a sufficient justification for the head of the Irish government, even supposing the assertion of the noble Earl to be correct. It appeared, under all circumstances, that no ground had been made out either for attacking Government, or resisting the appointment of a Committee, sanctioned as the principle had already been by the great success 240 which had attended the application of the Tithe Composition Act, introduced by the right hon. Gentleman, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer.
said, he felt it impossible to give his silent consent to the appointment of a Committee. He could not consent to shift to the Committee that responsibility which, according to the principles and practice of our Constitution, was most advantageously confined solely to the advisers of the Crown. His Majesty's advisers recommended him to introduce the subject of Tithes in Ireland to the attention of their Lordships in the late Speech from the Throne. It had hitherto been considered usual, whenever similar advice was given to the Government, under similar circumstances of danger and difficulty, that the persons who advised such a step should be prepared to submit some specific motion—some positive plan for the adoption of their Lordships, in order to meet and obviate the difficulties or dangers to be apprehended. And even although the noble Lords opposite should be able to bring forward some case in which this was not done, still upon principle, and in accordance with reason, he should insist upon the advantage of adherence to the ordinary course, and that which was most consistent with the public interest. He considered it a great advantage of the Constitution, that those conducting the Government of the country had the fullest opportunity of obtaining information, and of maturing in their councils every project that was subsequently to be subjected to the analysis of Parliament, representing the various interests of every class of his Majesty's subjects. He also looked upon it as a great advantage that Government was responsible for the measures it might recommend; and, consequently, he entirely objected to any Minister placing himself in the situation of merely throwing out a few loose ideas—calling for a Committee, and imposing upon that Committee the responsibility of originating the plan proposed to Parliament. He would accordingly object to the Motion, as tending to deprive the country of one of the greatest practical advantages of the Constitution. The noble Viscount threw out a few general ideas upon the subject; but expressed no decided opinion, and then called for a Committee. Now, in his opinion, the only advantageous way of having a Committee would be upon a bill introduced by Government, and declaring the 241 principles on which they proposed to proceed. With respect to the question itself, he would say, that he had no objection to a compulsory composition of tithes throughout the country, if the principles upon which it proceeded were just and reasonable. Neither had he, upon principle, any objection to a gradual purchase of the tithes, though he had not as yet heard any feasible plan for the attainment of this object suggested. He contended, too, that the Government proceeded upon mistaken views and false principles; and in proof of that he would beg leave to read the following extract from an harangue lately made by Mr. O'Connell in Dublin, and referring to his Majesty's Speech:—The Speech said, "It will be one of your first duties to inquire whether it may not be possible to effect improvements in the laws respecting this subject, which may afford the necessary protection to the Established Church, and, at the same time, remove the present causes of complaint." On this Mr. O'Connell remarked, "I tell Lord Cloncurry, it is impossible to remove the present causes of complaint. 'Necessary protection to the Established Church!' What! do they think it possible to continue the present tithe system in Ireland, where not one in twenty of the population belong to the Established Church, and where the Catholics in the South, and the Presbyterians in the North, are equally opposed to that system? I tell Lord Cloncurry, and I tell the King's Ministers, that that system cannot last in Ireland. It is idle in them to think of it—the time is fast coming when, as every man ought to pay his own lawyer, his own physician, and his own apothecary, so will every man be obliged to pay for his own clergyman." He submitted that this was in opposition to the principle of paying tithes, and not to the mode in which they were collected; therefore, the noble Viscount was not dealing with the evil that existed. In looking, too, over the newspaper in which he had that day seen the speech from which he had just read an extract, there was another thing which he much lamented—namely, the Resolution which had been agreed to. And he would beg to ask, what was the state of things in Ireland? The country was divided between two parties—the Catholics and Protestants—neither of whom had confidence in the Government. If the army were removed from Ireland to-morrow, Government would not have a single individual to sup- 242 port it, with the exception of the few who were attached to it by office. It was this dreadful state of things to which it was the noble Viscount's duty to look. It was trifling with the country, and not being faithful in the duty a Minister owed to his Sovereign, to continue dabbling with matters of minor importance, while the vital point—the principle of opposition to the payment of tithes—was left untouched. For these reasons he opposed the Motion, and likewise because the labours of the Committee must necessarily be addressed to such a variety of topics, that it was utterly impossible it could, within any reasonable period, arrive at any useful conclusion.
The Marquis of Lansdown
said, that it was not new to him to learn, that the noble Lord had no great respect for Committees of that House, although he believed the opinions of the noble Lord upon this subject were shared by very few of their Lordships on either side of the House; but it was new to him to learn that it was a matter of dangerous innovation, upon the eve of introducing an important measure, that their Lordships should be advised to prepare themselves to judge of that measure by a careful investigation of the subject to which it was to relate. If the noble Lord meant to state, that it was the duty of the King's Government in every instance to weigh carefully the subjects they introduced to Parliament, he entirely agreed with him, although he thought he had seen instances in which Governments, having the support of the noble Lord, had proposed Committees without having sufficiently deliberated upon the subject to which the Committees were directed to inquire. And, unfortunately indeed, it happened with respect to this very subject, that a government with which the noble Lord was connected, had adverted in the King's Speech which introduced the Session of 1825, to the state of Ireland—that this part of the Speech was made the subject of inquiry by a Committee—that the matters referred to the Committee were the Catholic Question, the Tithe, the question of Poor-laws, everything, in short, relating to Ireland; and that there was this peculiarity in the circumstance, that in this Committee the King's Government declared that they had no distinct views. Fortunately they were not placed in this situation upon the present occasion, since his noble friend had stated what were the views of his Majesty's Government—and 243 he would now re-state what his noble friend had said. One object was, to inquire whether the Composition Act should be made universally compulsory. Another was, to ascertain the propriety of making the landlord an instrument for securing the tithe. Again, the Committee were to consider how far it was practicable and expedient to give the Church the best of all securities, that of land. Now he would ask, had the noble Lord stated, or had he not, what were the views of Government? Had the Government attempted to dictate, their Lordships would have heard, he firmly believed, worse exclamations on the disrespect offered to the Committee; and the noble Lord himself, notwithstanding all his contempt for Committees, would, he had no doubt, have loudly raised his voice in vindication of their wounded dignity. The course Ministers pursued was that which had been uniformly adopted upon all great occasions, which was most consonant to the dignity of the House, and best calculated to meet the exigencies of the public service. On the renewal of the Bank Charter, on the restriction of the Currency, on the question of the East-India Company's Charter, Committees had been appointed, and in the latter instance on the recommendation of the noble Lord himself, not for the purpose of learning the noble Lord's definite views and intentions, but for the much wiser purpose of collecting information which he intended afterwards to use. But now the appointment of a Committee was a work of supererogation, or, if not a work of supererogation, an attempt to elude that responsibility which Ministers ought always to feel and acknowledge. The object of Ministers really was, to meet the difficulties of the question in the spirit of conciliation, giving to those interests of property which were involved in the question, the guarantee of a Parliamentary Committee, and she wing that they were determined to treat the interests of property, as they ought always to be treated, with the utmost delicacy and caution. He thought it was unnecessary and injudicious in the noble Earl who spoke immediately after the noble Viscount, to have mixed up individual allusions with the important matter then under consideration; and he could assure the noble Earl, that the appointment to which he had referred had been made upon purely professional grounds, like all similar legal appointments, and upon principles which regulated other governments in making 244 such appointments. It would have been better, and he thought it was most important, that such reflections should be separated from so delicate a discussion as that in which they were then engaged. Such a course would be most conducive to the attainment of peace and the security of property. It must be admitted that that subject, which involved the tranquillity of the country and the security and stability of the Church establishment, required the most calm and deliberate discussion; and it was for these reasons that he deprecated all party and personal reflections, which were wholly inappropriate to the debate.
in explanation, stated, that his objection to the Committee was, that it was preliminary to a bill in which Ministers should declare the principles on which they proposed to act. He thought that the Ministers ought first to bring in a bill. The noble Marquis also was mistaken when he observed, that he had supported the Government in 1825. At that period, he had the weakness to put a certain degree of faith in the noble Marquis and his associates—a weakness of which he had since had the good fortune to divest himself. As to the rest, the Committee on East-India affairs had never been proposed with a view of regulating the government of that country, but simply to procure information, of which there was great need, and he hoped, that when the India question was brought forward, the Ministry would honestly take the responsibility on themselves.
The Marquis of Lansdown
said, he Committee on India affairs would most probably make a report with a recommendation to their Lordships, and therefore it was not wholly to procure information.
The Earl of Carnarvon
did not mean to oppose the Committee, nor did he understand his noble friend to have done so, but he had hoped to hear some plan proposed by Ministers, which would be efficient, and equal to the danger which it was sought to avert. He certainly did not understand the noble Viscount who had proposed the Motion, to have stated any specific plan on the part of Government; but he was glad to hear from the noble Marquis, that Government had some such project in view. On this point, he perhaps did not distinctly understand what had fallen from the noble Viscount; but, at all events, he was pleased to hear that he was mistaken in supposing that the Government had no plan of 245 their own to propose; and the time was certainly arrived, when it was necessary to secure to the Irish clergy something like an adequate remuneration for their services, for under present circumstances it was notorious, that what they collected of tithes was not sufficient for their support; but such a plan, to be efficient, should be speedy, which it could not be if the power which the Executive ought to exercise were transferred to a Committee, whose inquiries must be protracted, and lead to endless delay. What had been proposed, or rather suggested, was quite insufficient. What ought first to be done was, to put down agitation. Any measure having that object in view should have his support. He was surprised at the great care and circumspection which had been used on this subject, particularly when it was on the part of those who used such speed on subjects which tended to increase agitation, and who were so prompt in their movements when they attempted to make and unmake Constitutions. He wished more caution had been practised upon those great occasions, and that greater promptness and energy had been shown in dealing with agitation and agitators in Ireland. However, he would vote for the Committee, but, as he said before, should have more readily voted for a bill embracing the topics which he had adverted to.
§ Earl Grey
had entertained a hope that a Motion brought forward with such moderation as that this evening submitted to their Lordships by his noble friend—one, too, so studiously divested of every appearance of mere party or political feeling, and which referred to a subject admitted on all hands to be surrounded with difficulties, and requiring the most delicate address for its satisfactory adjustment, would have been met with an equal spirit of moderation by noble Lords opposite, and that all would have united in a spirit of conciliation in the devising and forwarding a measure, at once calculated to preserve the rights and privileges of the Established Church, and to remove a cause of discontent, and thence an impediment to the tranquillity and prosperity of the sister country. He, therefore, was little prepared for the exhibition of angry party feeling indulged in by noble Lords opposite, and which answered no beneficial purpose whatever. The noble Earl who spoke last, said, that he was disposed to lend his support to the present Government, so far forth as their measures might seem to him 246 based on a system of wise policy. He knew the noble Earl too well to doubt that he would act fully up to the spirit of his declaration, and therefore hoped, that the measures of Ministers would obtain his support; at the same time he must observe, that the tone of his observations that evening was not much calculated to encourage a very sanguine expectation that he would be found among the active allies of the present Government. The noble Earl seemed to approve of the accusation of the noble Baron (Ellenborough), that Ministers, in bringing forward the present Motion, shrunk from their official responsibility. He denied the assertion. Ministers shrunk not from their responsibility, either as Members of Parliament or as guiding the executive Government of the country. In proposing the present Committee of Inquiry into the machinery of the tithe system in Ireland, they were necessarily responsible, in common with every other Member of the Legislature who sanctioned the inquiry; and that inquiry, be it understood, by no means relieved Ministers from the responsibility of the measure which they might hereafter deem it their duty to bring forward, as the result, of the Committee's labours. Ministers, therefore, were made doubly responsible by the present Motion—in the first place, as Members of Parliament, in sanctioning the Motion for the Committee; and, in the next place, in their official capacity, for any subsequent measure with which they might follow up the proposed inquiry. Ministers, then, did not shrink from the responsibility attached to their situation: and the assertions of the noble Baron (Ellenborough) were as uncalled for as they were incorrect. The noble Baron was in error in supposing that the circumstance of a preliminary inquiry by the Legislature at large relieved Ministers from the responsibility of any measure to which that inquiry might lead. The Committee of Inquiry, with respect to the last or preceding renewal of the Bank Charter, did not, for example, free the Government from the responsibility of the specific measure of renewal; as, in the same way, Ministers were responsible for the enactments in reference to the Currency, though these enactments were suggested by a Committee of Parliament. But, another noble Lord (Wicklow) thought, that the circumstance of there being in Ireland a systematic opposition to the payment of tithes, made it incumbent on Ministers to come at once forward with some legislative 247 remedy, for which they alone should be responsible. As he had stated, the previous inquiry would not relieve the Government from the responsibility of the result. Besides that, the opposition to the payment of tithes in Ireland was not an opposition to the principle of tithe, but a practical impediment to the working of the machinery, calling upon Parliament to inquire whether it was possible to devise some improvement in that machinery, which would do away with the impediment in the way of its free operation. Such an inquiry could only, it was evident, be efficiently made by a Committee of Parliament, and hence the present Motion. It was fair to presume, that its labours would be speedily, as well as successfully, prosecuted: its being appointed now before the Christmas recess, would enable it to send for witnesses, documents, &c., so as to be able to enter vigorously upon its labours after the recess. Neither were Ministers, in fairness, chargeable with the necessity of appointing the present Committee. The tithe in Ireland was an old and oft-urged grievance, which had only arrived at that height which precluded longer delay, with respect to the possibility of a remedy in its machinery, on the accession of the present Ministry to office. Such a remedy was now essential to the very peace of Ireland, and could not be put off without danger to the stability of the empire. No man was more anxious than he was to promote the prosperity of that fine country—no man more deeply regretted that tardiness with which justice was meted out to her. He deeply regretted the delay of that healing measure, which their Lordships had sanctioned some two years back; for he saw in the delay pro tanto a diminution of its efficiency. But while he lamented that the germs of civil dissension were allowed to grow up into a rich harvest of unconstitutional excitement in that country, he felt that he, at least, and those who acted with him during his political life, with respect to the Catholic Question, were not to blame. These germs of civil dissension, however, be their parentage what it might, were in active existence on his accession to office; so that all he had to apply himself to was, if he might so speak, to mitigate their symptoms, while he endeavoured to remove their proximate causes. This Ministers had endeavoured to effect to the utmost of their ability. The noble Earl (Carnarvon) opposite, blamed them for not having wielded the powers with which 248 the law armed them, with more vigour and resolution. Ministers, he hoped he might say, were not wanting in either—indeed, their Lordships had a guarantee in the high character of the present excellent chief governor of that country, that neither vigour nor resolution would be wanting, whenever either might be required to check sedition, and put down all proceedings dangerous to the peace and well-being of existing institutions. If new circumstances should ever require an extraordinary exertion of the executive powers of the Constitution, it was not to be doubted, that so long as the Marquis of Anglesey was the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, that the Government would not shrink from having recourse to it; at the same time, he was not ashamed to declare, that he should much rather that tranquillity was preserved by means of conciliation than by force. It was a principle of his political creed—one that he had cherished for very many years, and would not then readily alter—that the best mode of checking sedition was, to remove all its causes or pretexts. This being done, all pretext for discontent removed, he would then employ with the utmost energy every constitutional force, which the preservation of public peace might require; but not, if possible, till then. On a recent occasion he had stated his unwillingness to apply to Parliament for new powers, to meet the contingencies of illegal associations, so long as the existing law was, in his mind, adequate to the preservation of social order. He felt the same reluctance with respect to illegal proceedings in Ireland. At the same time, he begged it to be distinctly understood, that if it should become necessary to have recourse to stronger laws than were at present in force, to the putting down all illegal proceedings and unconstitutional excitement in that country, he would at once apply to Parliament for them; and even, too, for severer laws than the enactment which had expired last session, and which he had permitted to drop to the ground, because, as he had stated to a noble Earl, he thought he saw the prospect of a return to tranquillity, which might be endangered by its renewal. The noble Earl (Wicklow) opposite, taunted Ministers by implication with sanctioning the Dublin Political Union and other irregular associations in Ireland, inasmuch as they were not prohibited by authority. In the same way, other noble Lords might charge them by implication, with sanctioning the proceedings of 249 a counter-association which had lately held a public meeting. The House would see, that the Government was thus exposed to the attacks of two antagonist parties, and could only do its duty by firmly holding its course, without lending itself to or countenancing either. He had read the proceedings of the Dublin Political Union: there could be but one opinion of their violence, and of their mischievous tendency. He had also read the Resolutions of the antagonist Association, and was bound to say, that they were no less objectionable, and to be lamented by every well-wisher of good government. Thus, between the two violent and unconstitutional extremes, the Government had only a middle course of conciliation and firmness. In the eyes of some noble Lords, it might perhaps be a matter of regret that Ministers did not ally themselves with either; but their so doing would be a breach of duty. Their course was different: it was, as he had stated, one of firmness and desire to conciliate all, at the same time an inflexible determination to preserve peace and public tranquillity in Ireland; in doing which, he counted on the support of the sound part of the community. But while they were thus determined to assert the majesty of the law, he saw no reason why means might not be taken, as in the case of the present Motion, to inquire into the cause of public discontent, and to endeavour to restore peace and tranquillity to a country on which—to quote the King's Speech—Providence had bestowed so many blessings. Yes, he repeated, all that was wanting was social order, tranquillity, and good government, to raise a country so eminently distinguished by the fertility of its soil, and the intelligence and energies of its inhabitants, to a level with the most favoured nation of the earth. It was to be hoped, that the powers with which the constitutional authorities were armed, would be equal to the exigencies of the times; but if moderation and firmness should unfortunately fail, Ministers would not shrink from having recourse to the Legislature for extraordinary means, to meet extraordinary difficulties. He wished to observe, in reference to the charge made against Ministers by the noble Earl (Wicklow), that they had entered into negotiations with Mr. O'Connell, while they denounced his proceedings as contrary to law—that he did not deny, that he and his colleagues were desirous to enlist the energies and influence of that hon. and learned Gentleman on the side of 250 the Government. It was true, that a patent of precedence was bestowed upon that Gentleman; but it was equally true, that it was a mark of preferment to which his professional reputation fully entitled him. When the energies, and public business abilities, and above all the great influence of that Gentleman in Ireland were considered, it would appear desirable, that those energies, and especially that influence, should be employed in the cause of good order; and hence it was the wish of Ministers to attach him to the Government. The preferment which was bestowed upon Mr. O'Connell, was only due to his professional station; indeed, were that Gentleman's energies as much devoted to the cause of good order as might be desired, there was no legal station in his country to which he might not fairly aspire. But no official situation was proffered to him, or, under the relations in which he stood to the Government, could be proffered to him. No offer was made to him of official appointment, which could enable him to say, that he rejected it; at least, if there was, he was wholly ignorant of it, and he was sure that none such could have been offered that he would have sanctioned. He knew not whether this explicit declaration satisfied the noble Earl (Wicklow), that he was in error as to negotiations with Mr. O'Connell, to induce that Gentleman to accept of office. No official appointment was offered to that Gentleman, with his (Earl Grey's) knowledge, or could have been offered by any one else which, under existing circumstances, he could sanction. He stated this with something like regret, because the recent conduct of Mr. O'Connell cut off all hope that his energies and influence would be directed in support of the efforts of Government, to contribute to the improvement and tranquillity of Ireland. In conclusion, he would only express a hope, that the Committee would exercise due diligence in its inquiries, and that when they should have been concluded he hoped Ministers would be able to bring forward a measure which would, on the one side, secure the rights and privileges of the Church in Ireland, and, on the other, would remove a fruitful source of discontent from the minds of the people of that country.
§ Viscount Melbourne
regretted, that his statements had not been sufficiently clear to enable their Lordships to understand them. He only wished to say, that though his experience did not authorise him to 251 assume the decided tone of the noble Lords opposite, yet he thought he had entered into a full explanation of the views of Government. With reference to the case alluded to, of two individuals discharged after they had been convicted of conspiring illegally to oppose tithes, he wished to observe, that there were facts connected with the case which justified the remission of the punishment.
§ Motion agreed to, and Committee appointed.