HL Deb 16 August 1836 vol 35 cc1249-52

Viscount Melbourne moved the second reading of the Irish Tithe Compositions Bill. Their Lordships would recollect, he said, that in the year 1833, a great expectation was entertained of the tithe question being settled, and under that impression an Act was introduced, empowering the Lords of the Treasury, out of the million allocated to them for that purpose, to advance sums to those who had been defrauded of their tithes, and kept from that which was lawfully due to them in the shape of property. A great many individuals received assistance, and observations had been made elsewhere upon the names of those to whom relief had been thus afforded, which he thought very unjust, and which must have arisen from a great misconception of the Act. It had been erroneously considered as only intended to relieve the clergy; but its great and material object was to prevent the continuance of litigation upon the subject. The parties owning this species of property had only one of three courses to pursue—to seek for the recovery of their tithes by the ordinary and legal means—a course from which the Parliament and the Government dissuaded them—entirely to abandon their claim for tithes, absolutely giving up their property without any equivalent for it—or to take the relief afforded to them under that Act. It could hardly be expected that they would abandon their tithes altogether; the first course was contrary to the policy of the Legislature. The observations that had been made, therefore, upon those who adopted the third course, originated in a misapprehension of the objects for which the Act was passed. Their Lordships were aware that in the Act for settling the question of tithe a clause was introduced for remitting the million loan in certain cases. That Bill having failed, it was the object of this Bill to give a discretion to the Lords of the Treasury to proceed for the recovery of what was advanced, with certain exceptions. For example, if persons had received the tithes of 1834 and 1835, and had also received the loan for those tithes, there was no reason why the Treasury should not call upon them to repay the advances made to them. The noble Viscount concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.

The Marquis of Westmeath

said, that a great many misstatements had gone abroad with respect to the. loan under the last Act. It was not, as it had been stated to be, a loan to the clergy exclusively; for it was distinctly stated in the House of Commons that lay impropriators might avail themselves of the loan, and they had done so; and the Treasury could not have advanced money to them unless a majority of the House of Commons (but he did not think any division took place on the question) had made it lawful to do so. The noble Viscount had referred to the obloquy which was thrown upon those lay impropriators who had availed themselves of the loan. If he (the Marquess of Westmeath) understood the matter rightly, the Lords of the Treasury were not to call upon any persons for the tithes of which they were deprived in 1833, unless they had received the whole or the greater part of the tithes of 1834 and 1835. Why, those persons were excluded by law from recovering the tithes of 1833, and were they now to be called upon to pay that of which they had not received one farthing, and which they could not now possibly recover? If that was the intention of the Bill, he must say that it was most unreasonable; but he took it for granted that the Lords of the Treasury would not misuse the power intrusted to them; With respect to the repayment of the loan, he thought that the provisions of the Bill were just—but he protested against the Treasury having a discretionary power to sue for the tithes of 1833. Neither the law nor the state of the country had permitted those tithes to be collected.

The Archbishop of Armagh

said, it is not my intention to offer any opposition to the Bill in its present stage, because I do not wish to take upon myself the responsibility of the rejection of the Bill. But it appears to me to be founded in injustice, and I trust, my Lords, that you will be of the same opinion when I state, that it gives a freedom to persons who have disobeyed the laws and refused to pay the legal demands made upon them; while it punishes those who have obeyed the laws and who have paid their just debts. For instance, in parishes where the landlords and tenants have paid the clergyman, where the parties have paid the composition rent, this Bill authorises and directs the Lords of the Treasury to sue that clergyman. Then, in parishes where no payment was made, the parties are to be exempted from any demand. Now that is not the usual course of legislation; and it must be injurious to any country, but particularly to a country situated as Ireland is; it is an encouragement to people to disobey the laws. It is most unjust to the clergy, because if, for instance, the income of a clergyman was 500l. and he received an advance of the loan to that amount, he must pay the whole, although he succeeded in obtaining only 250l. That does not seem to me to be just. I leave it to his Majesty's Ministers to say, whether they would persist in carrying this Bill into effect, in a state which would render it not only unjust, but, most probably, inoperative.

Lord Hatherton

said, the Act of last year was expressly designed for the relief of lay impropriators as well as the clergy, and he thought it unjust to cast any obloquy upon them for availing themselves of the relief afforded by that Act. It was equally unjust to compel the parties who had done so to repay those instalments which, by law, they were prevented from recovering.

The Marquess of Downshire

agreed in what had fallen from the right rev. Prelate and the noble Lord who had spoken last. He thought it highly desirable that this matter should be set at rest, and that it would be very unjust to deal in the manner proposed towards the lay impropriators who had very fairly and properly availed themselves of the Million Act, because from what had passed in Parliament at the time of the passing of that Act there certainly was a declaration made, that tithes should be altogether done away with, and that induced many persons, especially in the south of Ireland, not to pay tithes at all. He thought it necessary that measures should be taken to prevent any recurrence to vexatious proceedings. As one of the persons who had derived benefit from the Million Act he felt bound to say, that he was very thankful for the assistance he received from it.

Viscount Melbourne

said, that the Act was passed for the relief of the clergy generally, and, therefore, it was not necessary that they should have received any particular tithes to render them liable under this Act; but if they had received any part of the loan at all, and had received property to such an extent as to enable them to repay the loan, it did not seem to him unfair to call upon them for repayment.