HL Deb 31 July 1843 vol 71 cc1-7
Earl Fortescue

then rose to present to their Lordships a petition of which he had given notice, upon the subject of the Irish Church. The petition was signed by Lord Oranmore. He had been informed by those who were more conversant with the rules of the House than he was, that in presenting a petition, signed by a single individual, on a question of public importance, in respect of which the individual did not complain of any personal grievance affecting himself, he was departing from the ordinary rules of the House. Admitting that, however, and without entering into the question as to the propriety or inexpediency of the general practice, he believed that this petition did not fall within its operation, for it was a petition from a Peer of the realm, though not of Parliament; and he conceived that he had a right to address a petition to the House on any matter of public importance, and that he had a right also to call upon any Member of that House to present such a petition. The petition of Lord Oranmore, he thought, claimed their Lordships' peculiar consideration; and he said so on acconnt of the long connection of that noble Lord with Ireland; of his long residence in his native county, of which he had been the representative in seven Parliaments; and on account of the honesty and consistency with which he had always maintained those views which he now set forth in this peti- tion, which concluded with the following prayer:— Your petitioner therefore prays, that your Lordships will take measures to have the whole Church property of Ireland, lands and tithes, except mensal lands for the clergy of the three religions, sold to the best advantage (preserving the life-interests of the present incumbents), and the produce vested in the Consolidated Fund, and the interest thereof appropriated permanently to the support of the Protestant, Presbyterian, and Roman Catholic religions, in proportion to their numbers: and to enable her Majesty to conclude a concordat with the head of the Roman Catholic Church, putting an end to the unworthy system of connivance now pursued as to the intercourse of Roman Catholics with the see of Rome, and establishing the religion of one-third of the people of the United Kingdom on a constitutional basis; that is, perfect equality with the churches of England and Scotland. He was by no means desirous of the spread or increase of the Roman Catholic religion. Very far from it. Indeed, he had seen with great regret and alarm, what appeared to him to be too great a tendency among some high authorities in our own church to an approximation to the doctrines and discipline of the church of Rome. But he must, at the same time, say, that after all the observation which he had been allowed to make as to the effect which the present state of the Irish Church and the appropriation of its properties produced, he fully concurred with Lord Oranmore in believing that neither the Protestant nor the English interests, nor the interests of true religion, were promoted by the continuance of that state of things which now existed. He certainly felt with Lord Oranmore, that the present state of the Protestant Church in Ireland, with its large revenues and its small duties, as compared with the hard duties and scanty pay, coming from the poorest people, for the support of the ministers of the Roman Catholic religion, was a great and natural source of dissatisfaction, He thought that it was most essential to the peace and contentment of Ireland that some legislative and established provision should be made for the Roman Catholic religion; and on the best consideration which he could give to the subject, he could not find any means by which a provision could be made so much in conformity with the ordinary rules of common justice and common sense, as the appropriation to its use of a part of those funds which had been originally given for the religious of all denominations, regard being, of course, had to the vested interests of all parties. These being his views, he supported the general principle of the petition, which he moved might lie on their Lordships' Table.

The Lord Chancellor

put the question, and declared it to be carried.

Petition to lie on the Table.

The Duke of Wellington

I shall not enter into the question of regularity referred to by the noble Earl as to the petition lying on the Table, nor shall I now enter into the discussion of the important subject to which the petition relates. I wish only to warn your Lordships of one circumstance attending it. The prayer of this petition goes to neither more nor less than this important question, whether you are to repeal or maintain those laws by which the Reformation has been established in the United Kingdom? That is the question submitted to your consideration, in this petition, from a Peer of Ireland, though not a Member of this House—that is the question which I beg your Lordships to consider well, and to decide whether or not your Lordships will listen to such arguments in support of such a proposition.

The Earl of Wicklow

said, that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack might have been aware that this petition would have been a subject of some importance, and on which some discussion might take place, and therefore it would have been more becoming of him to have given a little time to ascertain whether some noble Lord might not have risen to speak. The noble Duke who had just sat down, however; having given expression to his feelings, he (the Earl of Wicklow) felt that he was at liberty to address a few observations to their Lordships. He very much regretted that his noble Friend, the writer of this petition, had thought it becoming in him to present that petition: and he was not a little surprised, that the noble Earl should have accompanied the presentation of the petition with an announcement that he supported its prayer. What was the prayer of the petition? The subversion of the Established Church and the overthrow of the Reformation in Ireland. The noble Lord begun with the destruction of the Church in Ireland, and it would be naturally carried out to all the other parts of the empire, and the noble Earl, who had lately held the high office of Lord-lieutenant in that country, and who as a Peer of that House had taken his oaths at their Table, had stated that he was ready to carry that destruction into effect. He was, indeed, surprised that such a petition should be presented. What would the petitioner himself say, if the clergy of Ireland, who were ill-paid and had great and important duties to perform, and who wasted their lives in visiting their parishioners, should present a petition complaining of the overwhelming wealth of the landlords of Ireland, who abstained from visiting or attending to their estates. They had already legislated far enough: they had first passed an act depriving the clergy of one-fifth or one-sixth, then they had taken one-fourth more, and now they were called upon to legislate for their total destruction. When the noble Earl went on to say, that provision should be made for the payment of the Catholic priests, he went to the full extent of that wish. He would not take a farthing from the Established Church, but he was anxious that the Government should make some provision for the Catholic clergy.

The Lord Chancellor

The noble Earl has charged me with acting in an unbecoming manner in the discharge of my duty. I have no disposition or wish to take any measure of what is becoming or unbecoming from the noble Earl; but I did not put the question till the petition was on the Table; and I had not the slightest wish or intention of interposing between the noble Earl and your Lordships, or to deprive your Lordships of the pleasure which, no doubt, you have derived from what the noble Earl has said.

Lord Brougham

said, that the question had certainly been put by his noble and learned Friend, who had declared that the contents had it. Nothing, however, was more fit and proper than that his noble Friend the noble Duke, or that the noble Earl, should speak upon the subject. He did not wish to take that opportunity of entering upon the subject of the petition: he agreed in many of the statements of the noble petitioner, though he was far from saying that he had come to the same conclusions. There never was a grosser delusion than the supposed abuses of the Irish Church. He agreed that it was a deplorable circumstance that there should be a church for 600,000, or at most a 1,000,000 of inhabitants, and that 5,000,000 should be without any religious instruction; yet this was not any suffering for the peasantry of Ireland, or one which those persons felt as a material injury either in their persons or estates. It might be a wrong; it might be an abuse: he hoped to see it rectified; but it did not come under the head of oppression, that 1,000,000 should have a religion out of the 8,000,000 in Ireland, except in this respect—that the payment of the priests of the establishments was made out of tithes and church lands, which, however, did not belong to the peasantry, and that the peasantry were worse off because the priests of the state were paid by the state, whilst the peasantry had to pay their own priests. In this respect, however, they were not worse off than the Presbyterians of the north of Ireland; yet they never heard it said, that the people of Ulster experienced any suffering from this course. The Presbyterians, indeed, were paid a small sum by the regium donum, but the pay was so inconsiderable, that it was lately stated before their Lordships, that the people who attended the conventicles, or places of worship of the Presbyterians, had to pay their own priests over and above the state pay.

The Marquess of Clanricarde

differed from the noble Petitioner in his connection of the Church question with the Repeal agitation; he said, that if other grievances had been redressed—whether as it regarded agitation itself, which was very important, or the effect on the minds of the people not engaged in the agitation, which was still more important—the progress of Repeal might have been retarded if it had not been altogether stopped. He did not think that this Church question had been put prominently forward till the people of England were engaged in thinking what they should do for Ireland. At the same time he admitted the extraordinary and unparalleled condition of the institution, and that the Church of Ireland, looking at its resources and the amount of its communicants, was without a parallel in the world. As to the payment of the Catholic clergy, every wise man who had considered the state of Ireland deemed this most desirable. Still no prudent man would propose to take from one church to give to the other. The two propositions ought to be kept quite separate. He trusted that the Government would take the question of the payment of the Catholic clergy into their serious consideration, as well as the establishment of a direct communication with the temporal as well as the spiritual head of the Church of Rome, for he did not see why there should not be a direct, as there was known to be an indirect communication with the authorities of the Papal states.

Subject at an end.

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