The Marquess of Lansdown
, in rising to move the Second Reading of the Bill for rendering Composition for Tithes compulsory in Ireland, felt that it was incumbent on him to say a few words in explanation of the nature and objects of the Bill, of the provisions of the Bill, and the grounds on which his Majesty's Ministers thought fit to recommend it for their Lordships' adoption. And he thought that this was the more incumbent on him, because he had reason to believe that the objects of this Bill were very much misunderstood and misrepresented even in this country; but more especially in Ireland. The object of the Bill was generally to carry into effect a suggestion which had been made by the Committees of this, and the other House of Parliament, which was, that the system of composition for tithes ought to be made uniform all over Ireland. Voluntary compositions were already made in respect to the payment of tithes, over, perhaps, two-thirds of the country, and the object of this Bill was to render these compositions compulsory, uniform, and permanent. This the present Bill did, by enforcing the provisions of the former Composition Act where voluntary compositions had already taken place; and where no voluntary compositions existed, the Bill enabled and required the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland to appoint two Commissioners to carry into effect compositions; and the whole would thus be rendered uniform, compulsory, and permanent; subject, however, to such variations as might be deemed necessary 1276 or expedient. The Bill also provided that these compositions should be made, not only on the principle of the average value of the tithes during the seven years preceding the making of the compositions under the former Act, but that in cases where it should appear that the evidence as to the value had been defective, the composition should be altered, and made on the average of the last seven years. The Bill having thus provided for rendering the composition for tithes uniform, compulsory, and permanent, also enacted that, in all future cases, the burthen of the composition should be thrown on the landlords. But as it would be hard on landlords, that this arrangement should take effect as to lands held under existing leases, this was an excepted case. It was provided, however, that the payment should be thrown on the landlords on the expiration of the existing leases; and in order to create a temptation and an inducement for the landlords to take upon themselves the collection and the payment of tithes, even under existing leases, the Bill further provided that where the landlord should in these cases take upon himself the collection of the tithes, and the payment of them to the clergyman, he should be entitled, as a bonus, to deduct from the amount, thirteen per cent, and six months' time was allowed him to consider whether he would undertake this collection and payment; and, in case the landlord should decline to undertake, and to avail himself of the advantage thus held out to him, it was provided that the same advantages and equitable terms should be offered to the person next to the landlord in interest. This was nearly the whole scope of the Bill, and he did not think it necessary to say any thing further on that head than to state, that if any of their Lordships should think any further explanation necessary or desirable, he should be ready to give any further explanation either now, or in the Committee. Having thus, then, explained the nature and provisions of the Bill, he would, in the next place, proceed to state the grounds on which his Majesty's Ministers had thought it proper to propose it to their Lordships for their adoption; and this he considered himself the more called upon to do, because the object, purpose, and effect of the Bill had been very much misunderstood and misrepresented. It had been said, that the object of this Bill was to create a new title 1277 to tithes, and that it was intended by it to preclude all legislation on the subject in future, and all alteration or improvement in the manner of their distribution. That was entirely a mistake, and a misrepresentation of the nature and objects of the Bill. It contemplated no such purposes as these, but, on the contrary, left it entirely open to Parliament to deal at a future time with the distribution of the tithes, and all other matters connected with them, in such a manner as should appear just and equitable, having a regard to the nature of the property and the objects for which it existed. It would be perfectly open to future Parliaments to deal with the subject of tithes in any way that justice and equity would warrant, without being in the slightest degree influenced in their determination by tumultuous assemblies, or other improper proceedings. So far was it from the intention of his Majesty's Ministers to preclude such alterations in regard to the subject of tithes, as might be expedient and just, it appeared from the preamble of the Bill, and from the Reports of the Committees of this and the other House, that the provisions in respect of tithes could not rest here, and this Bill was only a preparatory step to such further arrangements as the nature of the property would allow, and the interests and prosperity of Ireland would require. The matter was of very great importance, and the subject was one which required great caution and consideration in dealing with it; but it was intended, as soon as possible, to proceed to make some further arrangements, in order that, if possible, all differences between the tithe-payer and the clergy, or other tithe-owners, might be done away. He would not have proposed this Bill to their Lordships, unless as a necessary step towards further arrangements for the final and satisfactory settlement of the subject of tithes. But this Bill was a necessary step towards accomplishing these further arrangements; and it was upon that ground that the Bill was now proposed to their Lordships for their adoption. It certainly was to be hoped, that the temptation which it held out to the landlord to undertake the collection and the payment of the tithe, would prepare the way for, and lead to, the accomplishment of the great object of a final, permanent, and satisfactory settlement. In this manner the clergy, without being exposed to constant disputes and 1278 differences with their parishioners, would receive those payments to which they were justly entitled, and in a manner which would not interfere with the due discharge of their sacred functions. These were the objects contemplated in proposing the. Bill to their Lordships; and in framing its provisions, the greatest possible attention had been paid to the interests of all persons concerned. He moved that this Bill be now read a second time, with a view, in case it should be now read a second time, to move that it be committed to-morrow.
The Marquess of Westmeath
had, at the beginning of the Session, fully expressed his opinion on this subject, and he could not but regret that this Bill was not accompanied by a bill for the commutation of tithes, and such other bills as might be necessary to settle the question. He gave credit to his Majesty's Ministers for their exertions on this subject as far as they had gone, but their language in the early part of the Session had led many to conclude that this was not the only measure on the subject of tithes which they intended to propose before the Session should terminate. The Bill now before their Lord ships was very unsatisfactory, when not accompanied with a bill for the commutation of tithes. That measure of commutation was one of such importance that it ought to have been passed in the course of the present Session; and if the attendance of their Lordships should not be such as was desirable, it ought to have been passed with such an attendance as could be got. The present Bill standing alone would certainly not prove satisfactory, and the intentions of Ministers, as explained by the noble Marquess, would be very much misrepresented in Ireland. But as this was, perhaps, the last time that he should have an opportunity of addressing their Lordships in the course of the present Session, he would ask the noble Earl at the head of the Administration, in what manner it was proposed by Government to meet the dangers to which Ireland was at the present time exposed? Did they mean to propose any remedy for the evils to which that country was at the present time exposed? and, if they did, what was that remedy? The times were most critical in Ireland, and the state of that country was such, that the common law was a dead letter, and as completely disregarded as if no such law had ever 1279 existed. The proceedings at Kilkenny were too notorious to require any comment from him at present: and the proceedings in the county of Kilkenny were not the only proceedings which showed how little the law was regarded, and how incompletely it was enforced. In the county with which he was more nearly connected, the state of the calendar at the last gaol delivery, as he was informed by letters from that county, was this: it contained 252 offences; and although there were among these, six murders, not one capital conviction took place. At the previous gaol delivery, there were only sixty-four offences. It appeared from letters which he had received, not officially, but from his private friends, that the well-disposed people in Ireland were in a state of the greatest alarm; that they were threatened with robbery and assassination in open day, as well as during the night; that gentlemen and their stewards were directed, under threats of assassination, whom they should, and whom they should not employ; and one gentleman was threatened to be murdered unless he took his labourers into his own house, and treated them in a manner prescribed to him. Such was the state of Ireland, and he thought that an exposure of that state was not unconnected with the subject now before the House. He was aware that the noble Earl at the head of the Administration had strong prejudices against his opinions as to the proper course to be adopted for putting an end to the state of peril in which Ireland was at present involved; but he could not conceive how any Ministry could allow such a state of things to continue without proposing some remedy. At present, no law was regarded in Ireland, and how could the Ministers leave the country in such a state? Disturbances of this kind had on former occasions prevailed in Ireland, but then effectual remedies were applied. Now, however, a new light had broken out on the Government, and the disturbances were allowed to go on without any attempt at applying a remedy. The Protestant ascendancy, which had prevailed in Ireland, might or might not be impolitic. He did not enter upon that subject at present; but, be that as it might, something ought to be done to put an end to the existing evils. He asked again, how could the Ministers leave Ireland in its present state, and did they not propose to apply any 1280 remedy to the existing dreadful disorders? He hoped the noble Earl at the head of the Administration would explain the intentions of Government in this respect.
§ Earl Grey
was of opinion, that the principal part of the speech of the noble Marquess had very little connection with the subject now before the House. No doubt the subject of the present Bill was connected with the internal state of Ireland, but the noble Marquess had introduced in his speech much extraneous and irrelevant matter. It was not his intention on the present occasion to enter upon any discussion of the existing condition of Ireland; but he was ready to admit, that it was in a very peculiar state. But it was at least very consolatory to know, that there existed very strong prospects of material improvement in the state of Ireland; and if the agitations and distractions occasioned by conflicting parties would only cease, these improvements would certainly follow. There was no country more susceptible of improvement, and nothing prevented these improvements from immediately commencing, and rapidly advancing, except these party agitations. The noble Marquess asked what was to be expected from his Majesty's Ministers in the present state of Ireland? His answer was, that what was to be expected from Ministers was, an anxious attention to the interests of the people of Ireland, and the strongest disposition to maintain the peace of that country, and to preserve the authority of the law in that country. The noble Marquess had manifested a great inclination to find fault with the conduct of Government in regard to Ireland, although the censure did not come very well or very appropriately from him. There was no want of anxiety or zeal on the part of the Government to enforce the law; and if those persons who were most ready to attack Ministers had properly supported their exertions to enforce the law, each in his respective situation, the state of Ireland might at this time have been very different from what it was. Still, although Ministers had not been supported in some quarters as they ought to have been, the Special Commissions which they had appointed, and the other exertions which they had made to maintain the peace of the country, had been attended with very beneficial effects. Turbulence and disorder had been repressed in several 1281 counties, and even in the county of Tipperary a very material improvement had taken place. In answer, then, to the question of the noble Marquess, as to whether any new measures were to be proposed by Ministers to put an end to the disorders in Ireland, he had to state, that not seeing the absolute necessity for extraordinary measures, and being extremely averse to have recourse to any such extraordinary measures, except in cases of absolute necessity, he had no intention to propose any extraordinary measures for adoption in the course of the present Session. He certainly felt a very great aversion to adopt any measures incompatible with the ordinary powers of the Constitution, and nothing would induce him to resort to them, except a case of inevitable necessity. But when the noble Marquess said that the existing laws were a dead letter, he would ask what remedy would the noble Marquess propose to adopt? Would he propose the re-enactment of the Insurrection Act? If the noble Marquess wished to apply that remedy, then he said that this would be no remedy at all for the existing evils of Ireland. The true remedy consisted in the vigorous exertion of the existing laws; and if these should, after all, fail of effect, it would then be time enough to propose to arm the Government with additional powers, and in that case, it would be the duty of Government to apply to Parliament for such additional powers. That, however, was a measure to which Ministers had no intention to resort, till the necessity should clearly and unequivocally show itself. If the necessity should become manifest, Ministers must, of course, do their duty. As to the proceedings in the county of Kilkenny, he most sincerely regretted that they had taken place; but he hoped that proper means would speedily be resorted to for the securing to the Church the payment of tithes. With respect to the complaints of the noble Marquess, that other bills on the subject of tithes had not accompanied the present Bill, the reasons for that were sufficiently obvious. The subject was of very great importance, and surrounded with very considerable difficulties; and it was hardly possible for Ministers to bring forward the whole of their proposed measures on this subject in the course of the present Session. This must be obvious to any one who considered the many other important matters which had demanded their attention.
The Marquess of Westmeath
denied that the gentlemen of Ireland had been deficient in their exertions to support Ministers in carrying the law into execution. He admitted that the Ministers had done all that the existing laws enabled them to do.
§ Earl Grey
observed, that the Judges of Ireland had complained of the non-attendance of the Magistrates in the very county with which the noble Marquess was more particularly connected. The noble Marquess admitted that the Ministers had done all that the existing laws enabled them to do; and that being the case, he again asked the noble Marquess, what were the other measures which he would have them adopt?
The Earl of Caledon
wished to know, whether or not it was the intention of his Majesty's Government to issue from the Exchequer Loans at low interest for the purpose of enabling landlords to redeem their tithes?
The Marquess of Lansdown
said, that nothing was more to be desired than that some facilities should be given to enable landlords to effect the redemption of which the noble Earl spoke; but, though his Majesty's Government had been most anxious to have carried through Parliament the whole of the bills which they deemed necessary to the completion of the measure in question, yet, as they had thought it proper to yield to the representations of Members of the other House connected with that part of the United Kingdom, it would not be in their power to say any thing decisive in reply to the question of the noble Earl, until the whole proceeding was finished.
The Lord Chancellor
, in reference to the observations of the noble Marquess (Westmeath), in which he called upon his Majesty's Government to introduce new legislative measures for the pacification of Ireland, begged to remind the House that considerable difficulties stood in the way of any such proceeding, even though it should be necessary or desirable. In the first place, there was a material difference between the law of England and Ireland in reference to that object. The extension of the Habeas Corpus Act to Ireland had been, comparatively speaking, but recent; that event having taken place near the 1283 close of the American war, in the 21st and 22nd George 3rd; and, though the writ of Habeas Corpus was now in use in that country, yet the Act by which such use had been created, was not the same in its enactments and provisions as the Act of Charles 2nd. The English Act of Habeas Corpus, too, contained a clause against the imprisonment beyond the seas, of any of his Majesty's subjects; and, if he did not very much mistake, there was no such clause to be found in the Irish Act. There was another most important matter connected with the Irish Act, to which he wished to draw particular attention—namely, that it invested the Lord Lieutenant with power to do what, in this country, was called suspending the Habeas Corpus Act, without, as in England, coming to the Legislature for that purpose. This power was of course limited to cases of invasion by a foreign enemy, or to domestic rebellion; but, as a lawyer, as well as a Member of that House, he did not hesitate to say, that rebellion as much consisted in such acts, or such a course of conduct, as by bringing together, in any part of the empire, great assemblages of people, and producing such excitement as to place the laws in a state of abeyance, and, in a word, to annihilate their operation, accompanying such conduct by acts of outrage, conformable to the design of compassing those objects—as a lawyer, he would say that was as much rebellion as any other act, or any course of conduct. Further, too, whatever was decreed rebellion by the Executive Government for the time being, was so in law to be considered. The Executive Government, then, was to be the judge of that in which rebellion consisted; and certainly the state of things to which he alluded was, in all reason and common sense, rebellion, as truly as the insurrection of a whole province, or the bringing out bodies of armed or disciplined men to oppose by force the constituted authorities of the land. Those acts were admitted to be acts of rebellion by the universal consent of the least informed of mankind; but there was no one familiar with public affairs who would not readily acknowledge, that the other proceedings to which he adverted were likewise acts of rebellion. In such an event, he had no doubt that the Government, proceeding upon its own responsibility, would manfully exert the authority which it possessed; at the same time that he could not 1284 view, otherwise than with the utmost repugnance and abhorrence, the necessity for even exercising its judgment on such a question. He had the gratification to remember, that the power of the Executive Government of Ireland was in vigorous hands, but, at the same time, in hands which would not, for any consideration under heaven, save the preservation of the empire, and the well-being of the people themselves, stretch it one inch beyond that limit which those principles demanded, but which would undoubtedly not fail in energy whenever energy was required; and he was well convinced, that well-timed vigour, whenever it became necessary, was not only statesman-like wisdom, but real humanity.
§ The Duke of Wellington
gave Government credit for a sincere desire to restore the tranquillity, and promote the prosperity of the Irish people, as well by other measures, as by the set of bills of which the present was one; he, therefore, hoped that the Motion now before them would be agreed to unanimously, for he entertained an earnest hope that it would be attended with success.
§ Bill read a second time.