The Earl of Wicklow
was desirous of making some observations on the Bill before it went into a Committee, but, considering that very important business was to come on this evening, he did not mean to go into the subject at much length. Still he felt that he might be justified in entering, on the present occasion, into a discussion of the whole subject of tithes, as connected with Ireland; a subject of the first importance with reference to that country, and which had, notwithstanding, been ill managed and much neglected. He would, however, confine himself at present to the particular object of the Bill, which was that of enabling the Government to pay certain proportions of the uncollected tithes to the Clergy out of the Consolidated Fund, and to authorise the Government itself to collect the arrears of tithes for the repayment of the sum advanced. Now the Tithe Committee had made its report, recommending this measure, in February, and yet the Bill was only in progress through this House at the end of May. The Committee, too, had only made this one report, and although it still continued in existence, it had received no more evidence than had been given in the course of one week. The subject had, therefore, been much neglected and ill managed. The report had recommended the total extinction of tithes in Ireland, and had, on that account, been productive of effects on the collecting of the tithes already due. It might be said, in fact, to have operated as a total suspension of the payment of tithes. When tithes were applied for, those who ought to pay, either were, or affected to be, astonished that such a demand should be made, and asked whether the Legislature had not put an end to the payment of tithes? As to the present Bill, he admitted, that if it had been passed at an earlier period, it would have been attended with very beneficial results; but the delay had allowed the evil to reach to such an extent, that if the contemplated payments were to be made to all the clergy, they would hardly be sufficient to supply them with a single meal. With this feeling he did not think the Bill of much importance as far as it related to these payments. But there was no reason why those who ought to have paid the tithes should not be compelled to pay them, and it was proper and necessary that the Government itself should compel these Reformers to pay, and that the law should by that means prevent an immediate collision between the Clergy and the Reformers. This 1365 law authorised and required the Government to exert its power, and enforce the payment of the arrears of tithes, for the reimbursement to the Consolidated Fund of the money advanced to the Irish clergy, for it was only a loan, and payment of it ought to be made imperative on those who ought to pay. He hoped, therefore, that the Government would not suffer any mistaken leniency or temporizing policy, or attempts at conciliation, to interfere with the enforcing payment from those from whom tithes were due, and he trusted that it would unflinchingly compel the payment of all the arrears. He said so, because he was informed that, in some of the disturbed districts, it was intended to resist the payment of the tithes under this Bill. When they went into the Committee, he would suggest some amendments for the consideration of the noble Viscount (Melbourne); and chiefly he would suggest, that the Government should be armed with additional powers to enforce the payment. By this Bill they had even less power to enforce payment, than the clergy themselves enjoyed, for there was no provision to enable the Government to make those who resisted the payment, liable in costs. The Bill ought to contain a provision to give the Government power to compel these Reformers to pay costs, otherwise they would persist, if it were only to put the clergy to expense. As the Bill stood, the proceedings to enforce payment from those who resisted, would be attended with no expense to those who had refused, and it would be ruinous to the clergy. He would suggest amendments in these points to which he alluded, but he would merely suggest them without proposing them himself, lest he should delay the progress of the Bill, which he was most anxious to have passed as soon as possible.
§ Viscount Melbourne
did not think the complaints of the noble Earl, as to the neglect in carrying forward the Bill, well founded, for it had advanced as fast as circumstances permitted. He had been anxious to proceed with the Bill in this House with all possible despatch; but the Bill had been delayed by the proceedings of the noble Earl himself, who had declared that he had amendments to propose. The consequence of that declaration was, that the Bill was necessarily postponed; and, if it had not been for that declaration, it would have been before this time passed into a law. As to the proceedings of the Committee, he did submit that, considering the magnitude 1366 of the subject, and all the circumstances, the proceedings had advanced as far as could well be expected. Under the circumstances in which the Government had been lately placed, it could not have been expected that they should bring forward a measure to settle the important question of Irish tithes. He was in hopes, however, they would soon be in a condition to propose a measure which would effectually prevent a collision between the clergy and the immediate occupier of the soil. As to the statements of the noble Earl, about resistance to the legal demands of the clergy, he would only say, that the Government was prepared to enforce those demands, and that it was intended to arm the Government with all the powers necessary to give effect to its purpose. As to the matter of costs, this was in the nature of a proceeding on the part of the Crown, which, by the common law, neither paid nor took costs; but the Government was armed with a power to take summary steps to enforce payment; and the power, he hoped, would be sufficient for the purpose.
§ House in Committee.—Clauses of the Bill read and agreed to.—House resumed.