HL Deb 16 May 1834 vol 23 cc1099-102
The Marquess of Downshire

presented a petition from the clergy of the county of Armagh and other parts of the north of Ireland, praying that the time for paying the instalments on the loans made to the Irish clergy by the Board of First Fruits for erecting glebe-houses might be prolonged; and setting forth, that they were reluctantly compelled to solicit this indulgence at their Lordships' hands in consequence of their incomes being withheld from them. The late Board of First Fruits had been authorized by the provisions of an Act of Parliament to lend certain sums of money to the Irish clergy for the purpose of enabling them to build glebe-houses. These sums were to be repaid by instalments, the amount of which was to be regulated by the value of each benefice, and for this accommodation six per cent interest was to be paid while the money remained in their hands. That amount was subsequently reduced to four per cent; but the petitioners being unable to obtain the incomes to which by law they were entitled, were not now able to pay either the reduced interest or the instalment due upon these loans. The Petition stated, that the incomes of the clergy at the time the loans were made to them were much larger than those they possessed at present. Their means had been considerably diminished of late years, and, owing to the opposition which was made to the payment of tithes, they and their families were now reduced to a state of great distress. They submitted, that their altered circumstances rendered four per cent too heavy a rate of interest for them to pay, and expressed an earnesthope, that their Lordships, taking into consideration the hardships they suffered, would be pleased to lower the rate of the interest and reduce the amount of the annual instalments which, under the provisions of the Acts of the 3rd and 4th of William 4th, they were called upon by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to pay. The noble Marquess said, that it was a hard case to see gentlemen belonging to so sacred a calling, and who had received a University education, suffering the distress which these petitioners endured. Their case well deserved the attention of that House, and he entertained little doubt, knowing as he did the feelings of their Lordships towards the unfortunate clergy of Ireland, that the prayer of the petition would not be disregarded or remain unattended to.

The Earl of Wicklow

could not allow the present opportunity to pass without recalling to their Lordships' attention the deplorable situation in which the Irish clergy were placed, and to declare for himself, that the relief which they sought was much more moderate than either their necessities required, or he had expected. They only asked that further time might be afforded to them for paying the instalments which had become due on these loans; and, under all the circumstances, he hoped their Lordships would not deny a request that was in every point of view so reasonable and creditable to the petitioners who had put it forward. If precedent were required to justify them in relieving the Irish clergy from these payments the Act of last Session would furnish that precedent. By that Act similar payments were remitted, and he thought the case which these petitioners made out was just as strong as that upon which the exemption to which he alluded was founded. The Board of First Fruits had the power of making loans for two distinct purposes, namely, to parishes for building churches, and to the clergy for erecting glebe-houses. These loans were to be repaid in the manner his noble friend bad stated. By the Act of last year parishes were exempted from the repayment of the sums lent to them; and as the principle applicable to the grants made to parishes applied with equal force to the loans received by the clergy for building glebe-houses, he could not understand how, consistently with justice they could continue the payments in the one case while they remitted them in the other. Just let them for a moment consider what the situation was in which the Irish clergy were placed. They entered upon their livings under the impression that their incomes would be certain; that their rights would be as much protected as the rights of other persons; but what had been the result? Why, that, instead of receiving that to which they were entitled, they could get nothing, absolutely nothing, and were suffering the most unmerited distress. The measure now pending in another place would have the effect of causing a still greater diminution in their incomes. That measure would occasion a reduction of from fifteen to twenty per cent, in the revenue of each living, in addition to which the Act of the last Session imposed upon the clergy several other burthens that were grievously felt by them. It was really quite impossible for them to pay the instalments on these loans. The heavy expense which they incurred by endeavouring to collect their incomes was a circumstance which, among others, ought not to be forgotten; and if noble Lords would be at the trouble to consult the returns which had been laid before the other House of Parliament on this subject, they would he convinced, not only that the clergy of Ireland had much to complain of, but that it would be merely an act of justice to relieve them from this particular incumbrance. He, therefore, hoped that their Lordships would give a favourable consideration to the prayer of the Petitioners, and the ground on which his present appeal was founded was, that they would have an opportunity of inserting a clause in the Tithe-bill to effect that which was required of them, as that Bill had not as yet got into Committee. This was, consequently, the proper time for adding such a clause, and surely it was only just that something should be done for these petitioners. In alluding to this Bill he was bound to admit that it had his humble commendation. He did not speak of the details of the measure, but only of its general principle. It was the best and most rational measure which his Majesty's Government had brought forward; but even that acknowledgment was not saying much in its favour. He would, however, go a little further, and fully acknowledge that this Bill undoubtedly did contain some really wholesome provisions, and it was not therefore, without considerable anxiety and alarm that he viewed the delay which it had experienced in its progress. But he trusted that his Majesty's Government would not allow the Bill to be spoiled in the Committee; that they would not hearken to the dictation of faction; and, above all, that they would not abandon a measure which was likely to produce so much good in Ireland. He would not detain the House any longer, except to repeat the hope which he had already expressed, that the prayer of the petition would receive the attention of their Lordships.

The Marquess of Lansdown

assured the noble Earl, that the Government would not abandon the Bill. The delay which had taken place, was not attributable to the Ministers, but to circumstances, and, had it been practicable to urge it forward with greater speed, steps for that purpose would have been taken.

The Bishop of Derry

thought, that the petitioners were entitled to that for which they asked. Nothing could possibly be more reasonable than the indulgence they solicited; and when the situation in which they were placed was considered, surely the justice of giving an affirmative answer to their prayer must be obvious to every one of their Lordships. He rejoiced to find that the Irish clergy had had the good taste to place their petition in the hands of a noble Lord to whom they were so much indebted for the services which he had rendered to them, and, as they were suffering the most aggravated distress, it was to be hoped that their Lordships would grant them the trifling boon for which they asked.

Petition laid on the Table.