§ Viscount Melbourne
proposed that the Committee on the Irish Tithe Bill should be postponed till Thursday.
The Archbishop of Armagh
said, my Lords as the Bill before your Lordships was read a second time at so late an hour that I was unable to make any observations upon it, I must request your Lordships' permission to state the view which is taken of it by myself, and I believe I may say by the Irish branch of the united church. I am anxious to declare that I regard it as a seasonable, necessary, and I may add, just measure of relief to the sufferings of an unoffending, meritorious, and most loyal class of his Majesty's subjects—themselves the steady advocates of peace and good order, but now the victims of unprovoked outrage and general insubordination. What- 746 ever the original impolicy may have been or the alleged grievance, whether real or imaginary, and in my conscience I believe it is more fictitious and imaginary than real, put forward rather for factious than religious purposes—but I say whatever may have been the original impolicy of the ancient provision for the clergy, they are not chargeable with any of the evils which arise out of this species of property. Their title to it is as unquestionable as that by which your Lordships hold your own estates. If that title be disputed let the opposite claim be made good before the legal tribunals of the country, and we are content to abide by their decision, but until such a decision is obtained, we may well expect from your Lordships' justice, that the private opinions and gratuitous assumptions of interested individuals will not he sufficient to disturb rights founded upon ancient grants recognised by express statutes, and devised as an undoubted part of the common law, and the established practice of the land. If bold assertion, unsupported by any show of authority, be sufficient to shake the property of the Church—if such sophistry as that which was used before the Committee be countenanced, or even heard with complacency in this House—if its motives and its tendency be not seen through and justly estimated—nay, if it be not repelled by your Lordships with suitable indignation and scorn—I shall lament, not only for the inevitable destruction of the rights of my own order, but much more for that blindness and infatuation which are unable to discover that by the same or similar pretences of factious and artful men, the foundations of all property, lay as well as ecclesiastical, and the stability of all rights will be speedily subverted, and public security involved in one common ruin. I trust, my Lords, that I am not going out of my way in thus asserting the rights of the clergy to the property of tithe, because it is only on the validity of those rights that the measure of relief proposed by this Bill can be supported—or that they wish it to be supported. Their just and legal claims have been defeated by means of illegal combination, and in consequence of a disorganised state of society, provoked by no exorbitancy of demand on their part, and by no injudicious severity in the mode of enforcing that demand, but by a system of continued agitation, and by the artful suggestion of those from whose spiritual character less pernicious counsels might have been expected. Instead of one-tenth of 747 the produce subject to the payment of which your Lordships hold, and all others have purchased their titheable property—the calumniated clergy of Ireland have been contented to receive less than a fifteenth of the rent, or from a fiftieth to a sixtieth part of the produce. This has been satisfactorily proved by a variety of witnesses before the Committee of your Lordships' House, and it is confirmed by the compositions already entered into by more than 1,500 of the parishes in Ireland—the amount of which averages less than 1s. per English acre. Such is that grievous impost on the industry and agricultural improvement of Ireland to which it has been said its poverty and its distractions are to be attributed. But, my Lords, small as this sum may appear in amount, it may be thought that the mode of collecting it has been vexatious. I do not deny that in a few instances which the industry of our opponents may have raked out, causes of complaint may have arisen, but these are generally to be traced not to the incumbent himself but to those to whom he has been compelled, by the refractoriness of the people, to commit the collection of his tithes. This, however, is never done without serious loss of income to the incumbent himself. In all cases in which no perverse opposition is given it is manifestly the incumbent's interest to enter into a moderate and amicable arrangement with his parishioners—both for the amount and the mode of collecting his tithes. And the best proof of his willingness to do this is to be found in the terms of the compositions already entered into, in which the clergyman has been generally willing to take not only far less than his legal demand—more he cannot take—but farless than hiscustomary receipts, and which, although he is authorised to demand payment twice a-year, as in case of rent, he generally applies for it only once—at the time most convenient for the people to pay it, and not unfrequently a year after it is due. But, my Lords, this may not be the most fitting occasion for vindicating the moderation and forbearance of the Irish clergy both as to the amount of their demands, and as to the mode of enforcing them—since their conduct will be seen in the evidence already laid upon your Lordships' Table. To your Lordships' can-dour and justice I fearlessly commit their case, and not only to your Lordships judgment, but to that of an impartial and discriminating public. With respect to the sufferings of the clergy of the disturbed 748 districts, amounting, I fear, to the utter ruin of many, and the great embarrassment of all, I must say a few words. I hold in my hand letters which fully justify me in stating that men brought up in decent and easy circumstances have been suddenly reduced to the greatest privations—and in some cases their families would have suffered under absolute want, had they not been relieved by the charitable aid of their friends and brethren. I could mention the names of the sufferers, and of their generous benefactors, if it were necessary. Others have been driven from their homes by threats which were too certain of being executed—and those who have had the courage to remain have been obliged, at serious expense, to send away their families to places of greater security. If it be asked why did not the clergy seek that timely assistance from the Government which they professed themselves ready to afford, and thus prevent the growth of this now extended mischief? I will tell your Lordships from conversations which I have had with many of the sufferers. The direct application to Government for military aid was the last remedy to which they chose to resort. Many of the ruined clergy have told me that, rather than risk the shedding of blood they would prefer the abandonment of their claims, however disastrous the consequences might be to themselves and families. In some instances the early interposition of Government produced the desired effect of bringing back the people to a sense of their duty, and I am bound to say, that if it had been more generally sought for and afforded, it would have produced the same effect in all. But I believe the fact to be, that the Government was unequal to afford the requisite assistance in the numerous and harassing cases in which it might have been called for—and the clergy still cling to the hope of the general enforcement of the ordinary, or the enactment of some extraordinary, law by which peace and good order may be restored, and their rights established, without being made themselves the objects of popular indignation and the victims of confederated assassins. Whether such a line of conduct, proceeding from such motives, be viewed by your Lordships with that admiration of which I think it to be deserving—whether it is to be designated as weak and faulty, or as kind and forbearing, it is certain that the existing state of things has reduced many worthy families to actual want, and to all it has produced distress—the greater 749 because it was unexpected, and, therefore, unprovided for. In several letters which I have in my possession from clergymen in the disturbed districts, they describe themselves as having had no controversy with their parishioners on the subject of tithes for twenty years, as not having had occasion during that time to levy a single distress. In other parishes the people acknowledged the moderation of the settlement under the Composition Act, begged the clergyman himself to become one of the commissioners for applotting the amount, and in some cases they have admitted that if they did not pay him what was due to him in the shape of tithes, to pay a larger sum in the shape of rent. Such was the state of things in many of the now disturbed parishes until the system of perpetual agitation commenced, until a frightful tyranny of fear and force was exercised by the lawless and desperate, over the peaceable and well-intentioned, above all, until tithes were denounced by spiritual authority and the people were exhorted in pastorals and from the altars to resist the payment of them by every means that wit and talent could devise with an artful reservation, indeed not likely to be much heeded by an irritable and thoughtless people, of not carrying their resistance to the open violation of the law. I need not tell your Lordships that the natural effects of such a mockery of moderation followed, and if it be a matter of satisfaction to such advisers to know it, they may learn that they have gained their ends in the utter destitution of the greater part of the Protestant clergy of Ireland. But I should hope that no good man will envy them their triumph. The only possible objection I think remains to be guarded against. It may be said, why is not the clergyman provided against the hour of need? My Lords, the beneficed clergyman, whatever has been industriously circulated to the contrary, is seldom rich. His income is always exaggerated, and he generally obtains it at an advanced time of life; his habits, his associations, and his pursuits impose upon him, without fault of his, the necessity of an expenditure that might be avoided in other stations. The demands upon him for public and private charities, and for contributions for various useful undertakings, are not inconsiderable: his children are to be educated, and placed in suitable ways of life. You require of him no common attainments as a qualification for his profession; and by so doing you 750 have engendered in his bosom the honest pride of accustoming himself and his offspring to what is seemly and liberal. All this may be now thought wrong and uncalled for; but time was when it was not thought so. If he be accounted rich in comparison with many of those around him, by reason of the superior decency of his mode of living, in almost every instance except where he is possessed of private fortune he dies poor. This simple statement will sufficiently explain to your Lordships why clergymen in the enjoyment of what is called, and often falsely called, a good preferment, may without the imputation of improvident expenditure, be reduced to great necessity by the subtraction of a single year's income. In the present case the loss was frequently extended to that of two, three, and even four years. The noble Earl at the head of his Majesty's Government will do the clergy the justice to admit that they have not been importunate in their claims for relief, nor unreasonable in their expectations of its amount; and I am bound to do him the justice to say, that the proposal of relief originated with himself in the Committee, and I am confident that even an increased amount would have been cheerfully acceded to by him had it been asked for; my Lords I have nothing more to add except to express my thanks to his Majesty's Ministers, and especially to the right hon. the secretary for Ireland, for having proposed this measure, and for having urged its adoption so warmly; and I leave it with your Lordships to be dealt with now as the exigency or the justice of the case may require.
The Earl of Wicklow
said, that it was not his intention, as the noble viscount proposed to defer the commitment of the Bill, to go fully into the subject at present; at the same time he could not avoid observing that the second reading had taken place without due notice, and before the printed Bill even was in the possession of their Lordships, so that up to the present time no opportunity of discussion had been afforded. He hoped, therefore, the noble Viscount would instead of Thursday, fix some more distant period for the Committee, when the subject could be fully discussed. On Thursday the House was to go into Committee on the Reform Bill, which would fully occupy their attention. He hoped, therefore, some other day would be fixed for the present measure, which he did not intend to oppose, although he thought it required numerous and considerable Amendments.
§ Viscount Melbourne
did not intend to deprive the House of the opportunity of discussing the measure, and the second reading had been hastened only because they thought it expedient to proceed with as much despatch as possible to relieve the urgent distress of the excellent body of persons whose relief the Bill had in view. It was desirable that the redress should be speedy, and that redress depended entirely upon the speed with which the Bill passed that House. Any delay of the Bill would delay the relief of the meritorious class of persons to whom relief was to be extended. He had no objection to any day which might be convenient to the noble Lord, but for the reasons he had stated he hoped there would not be any unnecessary delay.
The Earl of Wicklow
had no disposition to retard the progress of the measure. But perhaps a delay of two or three days might expedite the Bill by affording time for the necessary amendments to be proposed and introduced. On the Motion of Viscount Melbourne, the Bill was then ordered to be committed on Friday.