HL Deb 08 September 1835 vol 30 cc1442-7
Viscount Melbourne

moved the third reading of the Tithe Instalment (Ireland) Bill.

Lord Wharncliffe

said, that a more niggardly measure than the present it was impossible to conceive—none more niggardly had ever been presented to their Lordships' House. Their Lordships should recollect the circumstances under which this loan was made. The Government at first did levy the tithes; but then, on account of the expense and trouble in the collection of them, the Government issued an order which had the effect of suspending that levy of the tithes. But for that order the tithes might have been collected. The Bill went on the supposition that this loan would at some time or other be repaid. It never could be repaid; noble Lords must be aware that it never could; and the sooner the House of Commons and the people made up their minds to it the better. It would be hard to call on the Irish Clergy for payment. They had a right to recover their tithes, and the law gave them a right to protection and assistance in doing so. By means of agitation and violence, they had been deprived of the power of collecting their tithes, and they asked the Government to assist them with the means of enforcing their legal rights. There was no use, that he knew of, in a Government, except to enforce the law, and protect the rights of all classes of people under it. The Government was bound, at all risks, to vindicate the law. He believed that, in fact, the cost of levying the tithes had amounted to about 28,000l.: and that, at that expense, about 12,000l. had been collected. To collect money at such a cost, did at first appear an absurd proceeding; but the money alone was not the whole matter—it was the vindication of the law. The demand upon the clergy for re-payment, under the circumstances he had stated, would be unjust. He could not conclude what he meant to state without expressing his strong feelings as to the unfortunate resolution to which the House of Commons had pledged itself. By that resolution the House of Commons stood pledged never to agree to any measure for the settlement of the Tithe Question, which did not involve in it the principle of the appropriation of the surplus. The Ministers, too, before getting into office, and afterwards, had wrongly concurred in that resolution. Why it was clear that there never would be a surplus; that was as clear as day. It was said that there were parishes in Ireland where there were no Protestants. If that was so, instead of talking about appropriating the surplus revenues, the statesmanlike way of viewing the question would be, to recommend a measure by which the revenues arising from parishes where there were no Protestants, might be applied to the better payment of Ministers who had large congregations, and received but an insufficient stipend. He must repeat, that the present was a very niggardly measure.

Viscount Melbourne

said, that the noble Lord spoke of this measure as one of a niggardly character, and insisted that the money advanced to the clergy ought to be considered as a grant. The observations of the noble Lord applied as much to the original Bill under which the grant was made, as to the Bill now before the House; for the noble Lord said, that in consequence of what was then done the means of re-payment had been taken away, and that the money ought not to have been lent, but should have been at once granted. But how was the Bill carried through Parliament at the time? It was repeatedly stated that this would be, not a loan, but a grant; that it was a gift to the clergy—that it was a charge on the people of England which would never be repaid. But that statement was distinctly denied, and it was distinctly stated that it was intended to insist on the recovery of this money. It was upon that distinct understanding that the House of Commons passed the Bill, and concurred in making the proposed loan. As to giving up the demand for the repayment, he could only say that he had been perfectly ready to do this, if he could have made it part of a system of a permanent settlement—part of a measure calculated to form the foundation of a lasting religious peace in Ireland. But to that proposal their Lordships had refused to agree. Did the noble Lord think that it would have been just in them, when such a measure had been refused, to convert the loan into a grant? Would it have been just to do so, without considering the peculiar circumstances of every clergyman, whether he was, in fact, able to pay or not. Could they have justified such a proceeding consistently with their duty as Ministers of the Crown? The noble Lord said, that it was quite impossible that the money could be repaid. That might be so in some cases, but not in all. They knew that the payment of 100,000l. a-year of tithes had been undertaken by landlords, and under these circumstances he thought that the Government ought to be invested with a discretion as to where the repayment should or should not be enforced. The noble Lord called the measure niggardly. It appeared, on the contrary, to him just and reasonable, and such as was demanded from Ministers, by a consideration of a due discharge of their duty. The noble Lord had entered into the general question of tithes in Ireland, and condemned the conduct of Ministers with reference to the resolution of the Commons both before and after they were in office. He could not in any respect agree with the noble Lord in his views on that subject. He thought that the two parts of the tithe measure had been reasonably, wisely and prudently connected by the House of Commons, and that, if their Lordships had agreed to the reasonable proposal made to them by the House of Commons, there would not only have been the hope but the means of a safe and satisfactory settlement. He agreed that the Tithe Question was now in an unsatisfactory state, aud it was much to be lamented that it was so, but he could not consider that Ministers were responsible for this state of things.

Lord Ellenborough

said, that to enforce payment from the present tenants would be very unjust, for they were not the tenants who were in possession when the money was advanced. The measures which had been lately adopted by the Government, had taken away from the landlords all hope of recovering the money, if they should first pay it for their tenants, and therefore it would be hard to come upon them. He could not but consider the Ministers as responsible for the Resolution to which they had acceded. That Resolution was one of a most unfortunate kind, whether he looked at it as one to which there was no hope that this House would ever accede, or in any other view. The noble Viscount, when he undertook the Government, must have known that this House never would accede to that Resolution. But that Resolution was the more lamentable, as it had created a fatal obstacle to that union of public men, which was essential to the good conduct of the public service. While this Resolution existed, there never could be a Government which could conduct the affairs of the country usefully, beneficially, or firmly between the two Houses of Parliament. He repeated, that there was no hope of this House ever agreeing to the Resolution. He spoke as a public man when he said, that there was not merely a political objection, but a strong religious feeling opposed to this Resolution, which would never let their Lordships or the Protestants of Ireland consent to what they deemed a measure of a sacrilegious character. It could not be expected, that that House and the other could unite when such a Resolution prevented that union of public men which, their Lordships knew, was essential to the public service.

The Marquess of Westmeath

said, that the clergy and Church of Ireland were in a very unsettled and unsatisfactory state, and he attributed it all to the Resolution referred to by the noble Lord.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

said, that as to the topic introduced by the noble Lord opposite, that the landlords would not pay because the means of recovering the tithes would be taken away from them, he must observe that no general rule of any kind could be laid down in this case, for he knew of the existence of a class of cases totally distinct from the rest, and fully justifying the course now pursued. No man knew more than he did, how desirable it was to avoid, if possible, all obstacles in the way of an union of public men, where that union could be effected without any sacrifice of principles; but he must say, that his colleagues and himself had felt, in common with the whole country, a strong repugnance to provide for the Irish clergy at the expense of the people of England. He regretted to hear that there was no hope whatever that this House would ever agree to the Resolution of the Commons, especially if it was meant to be said, that under no possible circumstances could any concurrence with it be expected.

The Earl of Roden

said, the clergy of Ireland had not come forward to seek for anything except that which was their own undoubted right. They were placed in the melancholy, deplorable, and wretched situation in which they now stood, by means of the Government itself, which had not asserted the rights and dues of the clergy, and vindicated the insulted law, as they ought to have done. There was not an individual in Ireland who did not know that, at one period, the Question of Tithes might have been easily settled, but this was prevented by the declaration of Ministers in the other House, that tithes should be forthwith extinguished. At that time, the south of Ireland would have been ready in a fortnight or three weeks, to pay the tithes that were due; but the declaration of Ministers put an end to that state of things. All that was then wanted was, that the Government would prove that they were really in earnest—that they were determined to enforce the law. If they had done so, the Legislature would not have been placed in their present unnatural situation; but the noble Viscount informed them, that Government were ready to give up this loan, if their Lordships would have acceded to the Irish Church Bill. But neither the clergy of Ireland, nor himself, nor those who took the same view of the subject that he did, would ever consent to receive such a bribe, as an inducement which should lead them to desert their duty. They would never, in consequence of any such remittance, allow the alienation of that property which was intended for the support of the Protestant faith, to the propagation of another and a very different faith. He never would consent to the alienation of one farthing of that money which belonged to the Established Church, for the purpose of inculcating religious doctrines against which he protested. He had sworn at that Table, that he believed those doctrines to be erroneous; and as a consistent man, he never would lend himself to any measure which would assist in their propagation.

The Bill was read a third time.

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