HL Deb 09 August 1838 vol 44 cc1103-12

On the motion of Lord Melbourne, the Tithes (Ireland) Bill was read a third time.

On the question that the bill do pass,

The Earl of Clancarty

addressed their Lordships as follows:—I beg to assure your Lordships that it is with much reluctance, and only through a paramount sense of duty, that I rise to object to the bill now before you. At this late hour, and at a stage of the bill when opposition to it can hardly avail, I shall trespass but for a few minutes upon their Lordships' indulgence. I could wish, however, to preface the few observations I am desirous to make, by expressing the very great regret I feel that I am compelled to differ from many noble Lords on this side of the House to whose sound political views and opinions, I am generally disposed to yield deference and respect; but, who, by their support of this bill, amended though it has been in Committee, appear almost to have allied themselves with the hostile policy of her Majesty's Government towards the Established Church in Ireland. I am aware, my Lords, of the great responsibility that attaches even to so humble an individual as myself, in offering opposition to what purports to be a settlement of the long agitated, and now difficult question of the tithe revenues of the Irish Church, but humble though I am, I feel that I should incur a much graver responsibility were I either by my vote to agree to, or even by my silence to acquiesce in, the passing into a law of a bill which, notwithstanding the countenance it has met with, I can only look upon as an unjust and arbitrary interference with the rights of private property; as giving, impliedly, at least, a sanction, and a very dangerous one, to all the attacks that have been made against the Irish branch of the Established Church, and as crowning the resistance that has been made to the vested rights of the owners of tithe property, with a success that cannot fail to be of very dangerous example, and to render all other species of private property henceforward insecure. My Lords, you are going by this bill to abolish for ever in Ireland the ancient title under which the Established Church there has always claimed her revenues. Are you prepared to do the same thing in England? You are going to curtail for ever by one-fourth, the incomes of her already distressed and impoverished clergy, after having subjected them to the further burthen of the new poor law, and for the sake of an uncertain, and at best, a very transient pacification of the tithe troubles in Ireland, you are going to exonerate the tithe defaulters, men who have only made default through a wilful determination to resist the laws, from all further obligation to pay the clergy the sums they have thus wrongfully withheld from them. My Lords, you are not warranted in thus aggravating the wrongs of that persecuted, but truly meritorious body, the Irish clergy. You are treating the wrongdoers as the party aggrieved, and subjecting to a heavy penalty, the party really injured, and that too with the facts of the case fully before you.—As well might your Lordships thus interpose between a landlord, however kind and indulgent and some refractory tenant, who turned out and refused to pay him any rent. Your Lordships might as well interfere to compel a landlord so circumstanced, in order for a season to appease the troubles upon his estates, to forego all his outstanding claims against his tenants, and, together with his title-deeds, to surrender one-fourth of his future income for the benefit of some of his more substantial tenants who should be his security for being henceforth paid the remaining three-fourths. It would be just as fair and just, as politic, for the Legislature of the country thus to interfere with a landlord's rights, as it is now intended to interfere with those of the tithe-owners whose arrears you are going to confiscate, whose incomes you are going to curtail, and whose high and ancient title you are going to cancel, and all for what purpose? To tranquillize Ireland, or rather to endeavour to soothe and conciliate some refractory tithe-payers—Protestants as well as Roman Catholics, land-owners as well as landholders, who, having purchased their lands or taken their farms subject to the payment of tithe, and therefore, at a cheaper rate, have no plea whatever for opposing a stipulated payment. Away, my Lords, with the pretence of conscientious scruples and religious feelings, where honesty, in a transaction merely pecuniary, is thus lost sight of. Religion might as well be pleaded in justification of the assassinations and other atrocities that have been perpetrated in the anti-tithe warfare, but which, in my opinion, and I should think, likewise, that of your Lordships, give evidence rather of the total absence of all religious influence, and of the crying want of moral and scriptural teaching, as well as of a good government, among a people so easily incited to the commission of crime, such ready instruments to execute the designs of reckless and unprincipled politicians. My Lords, if private rights are to be surrendered as this bill proposes, if the law of the land is to be altered to suit the whim of a party who only acknowledge the existence of law to set it at defiance, instead of being upheld for the security of those that look to it for protection; if men who dishonestly, and in the teeth of the law, withhold the property of others and appropriate it to themselves, can find apologists and favour within the walls of Parliament, I must say, that the example is not one calculated either to improve the morals of the Irish people, and to restore among them that respect and obedience to the law, that social happiness that has been so long banished from Ireland, and which can only exist under a vigorous and impartial administration of the functions of Government. It is not, my Lords, an example calculated to justify, still less to strengthen the confidence with which under our free constitution, the nation at large, the Irish people, the Roman Catholics as well as the Protestants, look, and have a right to look, to Parliament for protection against bad government. It is, in fact, a denial of that protection to the clergy of the Established Church, to which, as a class, they have a peculiar claim, as well upon the ground of impartial justice as upon that of positive desert. My Lords, this bill has been proposed to Parliament in consequence of the recommendation from the Throne, as a settlement of the tithe question, and I am the last person to deny, that a question that has been the cause of so much bloodshed and unhappiness in Ireland, ought promptly to be set at rest. But what are the claims of this bill to its being considered as a settlement. It gives satisfaction to no one, and in principle, is disapproved by all. It is, my Lords, a settlement based upon palpable injustice, and one to which your Lordships can only assent in a spirit of surrender. As such what hope does it hold out of future peace? What is there in the past history of Ireland to warrant the hope that it will not prove worse than a delusion? Parliament may give the public money to indemnify the tithe defaulters against being compelled to pay what they have illegally withheld; but the grant will be no otherwise valued by them—it will be no otherwise considered in Ireland than as it carries with it the sanction of Parliament to the resistance made to a Protestant establishment in Ireland. This principle is henceforth conceded. How then are we to anticipate peace, security, permanence to the Church, at least in the enjoyment of its revenues, as a probable result of the provisions of this bill. My Lords, I have looked in vain for any such promises or anticipations in the speeches delivered here or elsewhere by the advocates of this measure; I rather find that the opinions of both its advocates and its opponents are alike prophetic of future troubles, and of renewed attacks against the Established Church. Nay, I may almost add, that there is, at least, one Minister of the Crown, a noble Lord in the other House, ready when the occasion shall offer, to place himself at the head of the hostile movement. My Lords, it is not by giving up little by little—it is not by extinguishing tithes in name, and substituting a rent-charge—it is not even by such a violation as the hardship now to be inflicted upon the Irish Protestant clergy involves, that the enemies of our Protestant Church, the party with whom it seems her Majesty's Ministers are content to share the government, are to be satisfied. It is the total destruction of the Established Church that they have immediately in view, and that they are determined to effect, and the present bill is no otherwise accepted by them than as an instalment of their demands. So much for the settlement now before yon. I most readily admit, my Lords, that prior to the great era of Catholic emancipation, there was a sufficient and just ground for discontent among the Roman Catholic party in Ireland—they had a just right to pray for an alteration in the law; but Parliament should bear in mind that, at the time of the passing of the Catholic Relief Bill, by which Roman Catholics and Protestants were placed upon as perfect an equality as was consistent with the existence of a State religion, the future security of the Established Church was guaranteed by the most solemn promises and assurances, as well as by engagements in the act itself, the most binding and sacred. Why, then, again make terms for the Church—for I am told we are making the best terms we can for it? Why, by so doing, waive the security then given, and recognise as legitimate those acts of aggression which are totally inconsistent with the spirit as well as the letter of that solemn compact. Why raise up a new Catholic question, which must eventually involve a doubt of Protestant property being allowed to exist in Ireland? I might, my Lords, hesitate to oppose, though I never could assent to, this bill, objectionable as I think it, if I believed that the clergy were consenting parties to its provisions. After all they have gone through—the years of sorrow, suffering, and privation they have endured, they are entitled to the sympathy of Parliament and to present relief; but where is there a single petition from the Irish clergy in favour of this bill? Where are the persons authorized on their part to agree to the compromise here proposed of the large amount of debt due to them?—Where is there consent to the proposed curtailment of one-fourth of their future incomes?—There is none whatever. Much, my Lords, has been said about what will satisfy the people of Ireland; but the clergy, whose vested interests are at stake, have surely as good a right to be consulted.—There is a matter connected with the question before your Lordships to which I would wish to draw your attention. I am far, my Lords, from doubting the uprightness of intention of those who in this, and the other House of Parliament, have, in their support of this bill, constituted themselves as arbitrators or peacemakers between the tithe-owners and the tithe-payers. I feel confident, although I differ from the policy by which they propose to effect it, that with the great majority in both Houses, the object, the sole and benevolent aim has been to endeavour, at a great sacrifice of principle, to obtain for Ireland, and especially for the Church, the very desirable boon of peace. Such, I am sure, has been the actuating motive of the majority of those by whom her Majesty's Ministers have, in this instance, been supported; but although I feel assured that in general there has been a rectitude of motive, I cannot help remarking which must also have occurred to others, that there must be in both Houses of Parliament many, who, like myself, have a direct pecuniary interest in the passing of this bill. It is not my province to inquire whether there were any Irish landlords who elsewhere voted for appropriating to themselves three-tenths of the tithe composition upon their estates, nor how many were afterwards satisfied, for the smaller consideration of twenty-five per cent., to become securities to the clergy for the payment of the remainder. No doubt there may exist greater difficulties in the way of collection in some places than in others—that where liberal opinions have been most in fashion the laws will be most in contempt; but as a landlord having estates in the county of Galway, the most Roman Catholic county perhaps in Ireland, who would be entitled under this bill to near 100l. a-year abstracted from the moderate and well earned incomes of the working clergy, which they have regularly received, I do feel that my vote given in support of such a measure would be justly open to much animadversion, if not to suspicion. This, my Lords, is a consideration that ought not to be overlooked—the importance of having the tribunal quite above all objection, and to this end it appears to me indispensable, that the clergy should be parties consenting to whatever you do. I fully concur in the expediency of an alteration being made in the present mode of paying the clergy, and that it would not only facilitate the collection of their incomes, but be of much benefit to the country at large—to convert the tithe composition into a rent-charge, payable by the first owner of the estate of inheritance, as this bill proposes; and I further agree with the preamble of the bill, that a fair and reasonable allowance should be made by the clergy for the greater convenience obtained for them, and as compensation to the landholder for the trouble of making this additional collection off his estate. But the spirit of the preamble of the bill seems to be quite lost sight of when in the seventh section it goes on to enact that the rent-charge shall only amount to three-fourths of the tithe composition. I can see no reason, nor have I heard of any why the charge for collection should be fixed at a higher rate than that proposed in Lord Stanley's Act, 15 per cent was then, in 1832, the amount of compensation proposed for collecting in times of equal difficulty and excitement, the tithes then payable by the occupying tenant, holding under leases. It was offered by way of a bonus to induce the landed proprietors to undertake the collection, and it certainly is as much, to say the least of it, as in any civilized or well-governed country ought to be allowed for the recovery of a first charge payment off the land. The fact seems to be quite lost sight of, that tithes are a first charge upon the land, and that the parson's title is superior to that of the landlord. Great as would be the deduction of fifteen per cent, however, for the advantages to be derived from the conversion of tithes into rent-charge, I would readily consent to it. I believe it to be fully sanctioned by the wishes of the clergy, and it would, in fact, be (did the bill go no further) but an act declaratory, and giving more immediate effect to the existing law, which, if left to itself, must, by the falling in of leases, render at no distant period, the tithe composition virtually a rent-charge, payable by the landlords only. But to return to the bill now before the House, all that it proposes in the preamble, as compensation to the owners of lands, is a reasonable allowance. Now, my Lords, admitting the propriety and justice of the proposition, it was surely incumbent upon her Majesty's Ministers, in bringing forward this bill as it originally stood, to show, by what process of reasoning, they arrived at the conclusion, that thirty per cent was that reasonable allowance for collecting, be it remembered, a first charge incumbrance upon the land, and how they came afterwards to be satisfied, that twenty-five per cent, was a just, a sufficient amount to deduct from the Church. It is quite clear, they cannot both be fair, and that if twenty-five per cent is the sufficient charge, thirty per cent would have been wanton and downright robbery. My Lords, is it fair that the property of the clergy, or of any class of men, should thus be trifled with—that it should be only owing to the mere accident of Ministers being beaten in the House of Commons, that a fifteenth of the incomes of an entire class of men were not taken from them? Her Majesty's Ministers are certainly the last persons who should have been the authors of such a scheme of plunder. I think some explanation is further due to the country, how it happens, that under the auspices, and with all the boasted advantages of a liberal administration, the expense and risk of collecting money from the land, should be estimated by her Majesty's Ministers at double, what it was fixed at in 1832, and at five times the amount that was formerly charged for what is, after all, but mere agency—five per cent, used formerly to be paid—but by this bill, the charge is raised to twenty-five per cent. The noble Viscount will hardly be able to reconcile this growing insecurity of private property with the existence of good government, although it certainly appears that it can co-exist with a Government of what are called liberal principles, but it is surely strange, that under such circumstances, the viceregal government in Ireland should pretend to a character for firmness and impartiality at the very time, moreover, when it sanctions the introduction to parliament of a bill, ratifying, as this does, the abandonment of the vested and undoubted rights of one set of men, in obedience to the clamour and violence of a party. This surrender of the Sovereignty of the laws, this abandonment of the rights of individuals, this tame and abject submission to the dictation of a party superior to the regular Government of the country, form a suitable commentary upon the Irish policy, the firmness and impartiality of the noble Viscount, and Lord Mulgrave's administration, and should make your Lordships pause before you hand over the interests of the Church to such hands. If it is seriously intended, that the sovereignty of the laws should be restored in Ireland, if the Church Establishment is to be upheld, and her clergy protected, if the principles and terms of the union of the two countries are to be maintained, a very different tone must be held, both in Parliament, and by the Government. Acts such as the present, tend to weaken that union, to degrade the laws, and to disgust those, whose interests are embarked in the future welfare of the country, in full reliance, that the terms of the union would not be departed from. I would warn your Lordships, therefore, that if you are not prepared hereafter, wholly to abandon the church, you should hesitate to pass such a bill as that now before you, framed by a ministry, whose words as well as acts are opposed to the Protestant Establishment in Ireland, and which has been prepared under the sanction, and in concert with a party, avowedly bent upon the destruction of the Church, in order to favour their views, as far as, in the present temper of Parliament, it was thought prudent or possible to push them. Such, my Lords, I believe, was the general tenor of the apolegetic speech of the Minister, by whom this bill was introduced in another place, in accounting for the absence of the appropriation clause. I have trespassed upon your, indulgence too long, and I fear, that at its present stage, it was idle in me to state objections to a bill which has been virtually agreed to; I nevertheless feel, that I ought, entertaining the opinions I had stated, to move, as I now do, by way of amendment, that the bill do not pass.

Amendment negatived, and the bill passed.

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