HL Deb 07 February 1832 vol 10 cc2-10
Earl Grey

presented a Petition from the inhabitants and landowners in Rathclaren, praying for the abolition of Tithes and Church Rates, and that the Church Lands might be resumed and disposed of for objects of common interest to all the inhabitants of the realm. In introducing this petition to the notice of their Lordships, he begged leave to state, that he presented it as a Peer of that House, and in that capacity only. He had ascertained that it was not worded in a disrespectful manner, and therefore he felt himself bound to present it. He however, need scarcely state to their Lordships, not only that he did not approve of such a measure as the petitioners recommended, but that if a project of that nature were proposed by any one, it should receive from him the most decided and determined opposition. Under all the circumstances of the case, he saw the urgency of effecting some improvement in the mode of making provision for the clergy in Ireland; but he would unequivocally state, that he never could think of making any such improvement in the mode of providing for the clergy without fully securing to the Church its just rights. At the same time he hoped and believed that something might be done to remove those causes of complaint and dispute which were engendered by the existing system. However, to avoid misrepresentation, and to put an end to certain unfounded rumours which had been industriously circulated—rumours which were connected with the opposition given to the payment of tithes, and which had a very bad effect in the present situation of Ireland—he felt it right to say, that he thought it absolutely and imperatively necessary, before they proceeded to legislate on this subject generally, that the authority of the law, as it at present stood, should be fully vindicated. In every case where they had been called for, the powers of the law had been strennously exerted, and so far as they could be exerted, Government was determined that the existing law should still be strictly enforced, in order to produce those effects for which its powers were originally granted; and if those powers were ultimately found to be inefficient, he should not hesitate to propose a bill to give the Government still greater authority, in order more effectually to stop those illegal practices which at present prevailed over a large portion of Ireland.

The Earl of Wicklow

felt much gratified at the declaration of the noble Earl but must, at the same time, express his regret that such a declaration had not been made at an earlier period. If a declaration of that nature had been made by the noble Earl, or by any other of his Majesty's Ministers, before the appointment of the Committee on tithes, it would have produced a most salutary effect, and a very considerable portion of those evils which had occurred in Ireland would have been prevented. He must be permitted to state his sincere belief that the appointment of a Committee of that House, to inquire into the subject of Irish tithes, unaccompanied by such a declaration as they had just heard, had been attended with much evil —evil which, he feared, the labours of the Committee could not remedy; and to get the better of which would take considerable time, and demand strong exertions on the part of Government.

Earl Grey

regretted that, as the noble Earl had expressed his approbation of the sentiments which he (Earl Grey) now utter ed, he should have fallen under his censure for not having stated them at an earlier period. He really considered when he proposed an investigation into the subject of tithes, and the appointment of a Committee of Inquiry, that he was taking the most effectual steps towards tranquillizing the public mind in Ireland, and preventing the continuance of offences against the law. Perhaps he might have taken a different course if he had entertained the most remote suspicion that those evils would have proceeded to the present extent; but with regard to the charge made by the noble Earl, of his having declined to state his determination to support the arm of the law when the Committee was appointed, he could only ask if any other sentiments had ever been delivered by him, and if he had not on all occasions declared his determination to support the interests of the Established Church. He would only say now that which he had repeatedly stated before. He hoped the law as it stood was sufficient, but if it failed to correct violence, and to secure property, he would cheerfully apply to Parliament, to arm the Irish Government with additional authority. He was anxious not to be misunderstood, as he was aware that pains had been taken to circulate reports of the most malignant nature as to the intentions of his Majesty's Government. In defiance of those calumnies he would state confidently and fearlessly that on no occasion had Government neglected to do its duty. He scarcely thought that he should have been called on to vouch for that which was a matter of public notoriety; but as such reports had been propagated and were still continually put into circulation, he availed himself of the first opportunity he had—the presentation of this petition—to declare, perhaps more emphatically, though not more sincerely, than he had often declared before, the determination of his Majesty's Government to uphold the authority of the law by every means in their power, and to preserve our existing institutions.

Lord Ellenborough

thought, if the noble Earl had referred to the papers submitted to the Committee, and laid on the Table of the House, the noble Earl would have seen the necessity of making the declaration their Lordships had now heard with so much satisfaction. As early as last November it was stated by the Under Secretary of State in Dublin, in reference to the number of committals in Dublin, that rumours had gone abroad that it was not the intention of Government to uphold the tithe-system, and that it would not prevent the spoliation of the clergy. The noble Earl was aware that the whole people were aroused by the expectation that the measures of the Government would put an end to tithes, and as long as that expectation continued, not knowing what might ultimately be the arrangement, the dues of the clergy were necessarily withheld. All the evils which were described in the papers laid on the Table must necessarily be increased, so long as there were any doubts existing as to what were to be the relations between the tithe-receiver and the tithe-payer; it was impossible to expect that the clergy would expose themselves to danger by exercising their rights, and impossible to expect that the tithe-payers would continue to pay that from which they expected at no distant day to be relieved. Since the appointment of the Committee it had turned out, as he expected, and all the evils of the system had not only continued but increased. They had extended to other counties and other parts of the country in which previously no profession of resistance had been made. Under the present circumstances, the Government certainly ought to lose no time in coming forward, as the noble Earl had done, to vindicate the authority of the law, and maintain the rights of the clergy. Unless that were done, and done rigorously and speedily, the resolution to resist the payment of tithes would be strengthened, and the payment everywhere resisted. It was impossible that this evil could continue without leading to other dangers. That must be the case in all countries, and particularly in Ireland, where the people were accustomed to think that all rights were only concessions to force. This state of things could not continue without danger. If measures were not speedily taken to enforce the payment of tithes, undoubtedly the payment of rent would soon be resisted. Whatever proposition the Government might have to make, it ought to lose no time, and the noble Earl should enforce the law for the maintenance of the rights of the clergy. He would venture to suggest, that it was most desirable that an investigation should immediately take place into the state of the existing laws as to enforcing the rights of the clergy, what remedies were provided for them by law, in order to ascertain if it were necessary to make any further provision. He was not aware if this had been done. He thought it was most desirable that the clergyman should be enabled, by some speedy and cheap process, to attach, not only the property, but the persons of the tithe-payers, and to recover his dues. As the law now stood, there was no power of breaking up combinations, and nothing could effect that but a cheap and speedy method of attaching the person. He would venture, likewise, to suggest, that if the law was not at present sufficient, some strong measure should be passed to enable the Government, to prosecute any individuals arraying themselves against the payment of tithes. It was not only illegal to resist tithes—and for that certainly the parties might be prosecuted—but there should be likewise a power of proceeding against those who advised such a measure; for such advice, whether illegal or not, must tend to subvert the tithe system. These were matters which he thought worthy of consideration, and which implied that some new law was necessary. It was necessary to strengthen the hands of the owners of tithes, the hands of the clergy, and the hands of the Government, in order to enable them to make head against the combination which existed in Ireland, to subvert all the rights of the Established Church.

The Marquis of Lansdown

differed from those noble Lords who were of opinion that the appointment of the Tithe Committee had aggravated the evils under which Ireland was labouring. Upon this question the feelings of the Ministers had been much misrepresented. Their conduct had not been supine or negligent. It was given in evidence before the Committee, that whenever the Government had been applied to for the purpose of enforcing the rights of tithe-owners, assistance was promptly afforded. It appeared, throughout the evidence given before that Committee (the evidence, be it observed, of persons of experience, and of different professions and opinions, from various parts of the country), that there had not been a single instance in which the Government, when called on, had not given the most prompt assistance to every person who could justly claim it. It was not to add to this practical demonstration of the determination of his Majesty's Ministers to uphold the law, that his noble friend had made the declaration which they had that night heard; but he had felt it necessary to take this course in consequence of unfair reports which had been most industriously circulated—reports that were un-sustained and unsupported by a single fact. These reports, which had not the least foundation, were sent abroad, not only by those who were interested in the receipt, but also by those who were interested in the payment of tithes. With respect to what had been said as to the effect produced by the appointment of this Committee, he should only observe, that it had been that day stated in evidence, that to the appointment of the Committee might be attributed the non-extension of that spirit of resistance to the payment of tithes which unhappily prevailed in some parts of Ireland; and those who gave this evidence expressed a confident feeling that the result of the investigation of the Committee would be to do away with the system of resistance. He did not believe that there was a single person engaged in the consideration of the subject who was not of opinion that some measure beneficial to each of the parties interested in the question, as well as useful to the general peace of the country, would flow from the labours of the Committee. All the points to which the noble Lord (Lord Ellenborough) alluded, had engaged the attention of the Committee, and they felt the greatest anxiety to recommend such measures as would speedily and decidedly remedy the existing evil.

Lord Cloncurry

said, he had the honour to be a member of the Committee in question, and it was only doing justice to their Lordships who were on that Committee, to state his conviction that no blame whatever could be attributed to them with regard to the excitement which prevailed in Ireland. The resistance of the people to the execution of the laws, proceeded from the general feeling that the laws were unjust. If attention were paid to the just complaints and the just claims of the people, it would soon be found that this was the best method to secure the rights of property, and respect and obedience to the law. He hoped the Committee would do the Irish people justice. He had no doubt that the law as it was would be obeyed in the meanwhile, if the people were told, that what was just and right should be established for the time to come. He had a petition to present.

Lord Ellenborough

interrupted the noble Lord to say, that the question on the petitions of the noble Earl had not yet been put. In the first of those petitions he observed an informality, which would probably induce the noble Earl to withdraw it for correction.

Lord Wynford

observed, that the subjects to which his noble friend (Lord Ellenborough) had directed their attention, were under the consideration of the Committee, and he considered it due to that Committee to state, that it was extremely anxious to get at the root of the evil, and, if possible, remove it. With respect to the means which the clergyman in Ireland possessed for the recovery of tithes, they were the same as in England, with this difference, that the Irish clergyman had one additional remedy. He believed that the evils which grew out of the resistance to the payment of tithes, might justly be attributed to the extreme misconduct of the Roman Catholic priests of Ireland. He was convinced of this from reading the pastoral letter of Dr. Doyle to his province, if he were not wrong in using the expression. That letter was acted on by the priests, who denounced, from the altar, those persons who paid tithes. That letter had been productive of immense mischief. He was extremely glad to learn that his Majesty's Ministers had come to the determination to strike at the foundation of the evil.

Lord Plunkett

said, it gave him great pleasure to observe an unanimous feeling, on all sides of the House, to inquire into this important subject, accompanied by a decided determination, while their Lord- ships sought the best means of giving relief to the people, to protect the just and undoubted rights of the clergy. He was greatly surprised that there should be any misunderstanding as to the feelings of his Majesty's Government on this subject. The whole of his noble friend's political life sufficiently answered for his sentiments. He had often heard his noble friend speak on the subject of the Church, and he had never known him to express any other feeling than that which shewed that he cherished a high respect for the rights of the clergy, and of the Protestant Establishment. The idea that there was, on the part of his Majesty's Government, a feeling unfavourable to the clergy, had not grown out of the silence of his noble friend, but had sprung out of injudicious observations that had proceeded from other quarters. Obscure and humble individuals in Ireland might entertain the extravagant notion that the Government of the country was not unwilling to sacrifice the rights of the Church. That such persons, looking at their station in life, might entertain such opinions, was not very surprising; in them, perhaps, it was excusable. But it was a very different matter when suspicions of this nature were cherished and were disseminated by persons of high rank and influence in society. It was not to be wondered at, if such persons connived at, or circulated such reports, that they should produce a very considerable effect on the minds of the lower orders of the people. When persons occupying high situations, who, as public functionaries, were deeply interested in the preservation of the public peace, lent their names to such calumnies, he could not be surprised if individuals moving in an inferior rank were led astray by them. He could not wonder that the people should refuse to pay tithes when they were told by individuals, such as he had described, that the Government of the country were not the supporters of the Protestants of Ireland. Nothing could be more unfounded, more devoid of truth, more dangerous, or more mischievous, than the propagation of such an assertion. It had been truly said, that much of the determination against the payment of tithes, as manifested by the people in some parts of Ireland, had arisen from the persuasion that the Government of this country was not actuated by a considerate feeling towards the clergy. Not a word bad, however, been said by his noble friend, or by any other member of the Government, to countenance such a supposition. No, the report came from those who, in spite of all just and fair feeling, had thought fit to propagate that for which there was no foundation. If those individuals chose to associate together, and to declare that the Government had not their confidence, they might do so; but they ought not to make accusations, or to send forth insinuations which were unsupported by fact. If, under these circumstances, the Protestant clergy of Ireland were assailed by difficulties, on whose heads ought the blame to rest? Why, on the heads of those who propagated these, he would call them, unfounded slanders. The noble Lord at the head of the Irish Government had had repeated opportunities of expressing his sentiments on this subject, and he had never, in any one instance, where it was referred to by him, omitted to state that he was most anxious to support the clergy of the Protestant Church. Neither were his mere empty declarations; because, whenever the Government of the country had been called on to support the clergy, in every instance, without exception, the most prompt and cheerful assistance had been afforded to them, and the Protestant clergy of Ireland felt grateful to his Excellency for his support. He begged pardon for detaining the House so long on this question, but, connected as he was with the Irish Government, he felt it to be his duty to say thus much. Undoubtedly he should concur most heartily in every measure which had for its object the support of the Church, and the maintenance of its rights.

Petition laid on the Table.

Lord Ellenborough

said, he felt it necessary to refer to the case of a Roman Catholic gentleman, Sir Emanuel More, who, it was reported, had advised the inhabitants of the district where he resided, not to submit to the law which subjected them to distraint for tithe, for the purpose of asking noble Lords opposite if any attempt had been made to collect evidence of the fact, and, in the event of evidence being found, if it was intended to prosecute the offender?

Viscount Melbourne

did not know what had been done in respect to the particular case adverted to by the noble Lord. But in other cases of a similar nature he knew that attempts had been made to collect evidence.