HL Deb 20 February 1846 vol 83 cc1249-54

, in pursuance of Notice, presented to their Lordships a petition of very great importance. The petition was from the inhabitants of the city of Cork, and emanated from a public meeting called for the purpose in that city. It was signed by the mayor, all the aldermen, and so large a number of the inhabitants, that the postage of the petition, as charged to him (Lord Campbell), amounted to 8l., which, by the liberality of the Government, and the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of St. Germans) had been remitted. The petitioners, after alluding to the pledge solemnly given by the Monarch in both Houses of Parliament, that Irish grievances should be redressed, ventured to lay before the House what they considered a very great evil—the payment of what was called "Ministers' Money" in Ireland. Now, so little was that subject known in England, that, since he had entered the House, he had been asked by a noble Peer of very great information and intelligence, whether the petition was against the Regium Donum given by the Crown to the Presbyterian Dissenters in Ireland. The petitioners did not at all interfere with that, and, as far as he was aware, they by no means wished that that grant should be intercepted or diminished; but their desire was to lay before the House a very heavy grievance, personal and peculiar to themselves. In the reign of Charles II., what he (Lord Campbell) must consider a very arbitrary Act was passed, by which the inhabitants of certain corporate towns in Ireland were subjected to a personal tax for the maintenance of the ministers of the Episcopal Protestant religion in that country. He (Lord Campbell) insisted upon it—subject to any answer which might be given to the statement—that it was a personal tax. It was not all like tithes, which, whether they were or were not a burden upon the land, certainly were no burden upon the landholder, who purchased only nine-tenths of the land, and not the remaining one-tenth, or whatever the proportion might be, and was not in the slightest degree aggrieved by the payment of tithes, which ought to be held for ever sacred. Ministers' Money was a tax upon the inhabitants of the towns, not at all like church rates, which he (Lord Campbell) remembered had, by a noble Lord opposite, been traced back to the time of Canute; but it was a modern tax, placed upon all the inhabitants of towns, whether they were Roman Catho- lics, Presbyterians, Dissenters, or belonging to that very small minority of the country, the Protestant Episcopal Church, who were all compelled to contribute to the maintenance of the Episcopal Protestant pastor within the town. They considered this as a great grievance, because they were obliged to maintain their own pastors, and to support the fabrics where divine worship was performed according to their own tenets. They felt that it was a very heavy charge, but their Lordships would be surprised when he mentioned the small amount in reality. They deemed it, however, an insult that they should be obliged to contribute at all to the maintenance of the Episcopal Protestant clergy in Ireland. But the House were aware that it was considered so great a grievance that almost every successive Secretary for Ireland had admitted it, and expressed his regret that it could not be remedied. He did not remember what the noble Lord opposite had said upon the subject; but the noble Lord near him (the Earl of St. Germans), had, in another place, admitted the grievance, and lamented that he had no means of removing it. The right hon. Gentleman, Sir T. Fremantle, whom he was proud to call his friend, tilled the situation of Secretary for Ireland, and he likewise, in his place in the House of Commons, admitted that it was a great grievance, and wished for the means of removing it. The only question, therefore was, whether the Government should not, and if they would not, whether the House should not press upon them to remove that which was considered upon all sides to be a grievance. He (Lord Campbell) was astonished that it was not included in the Church Temporalities Act, when that measure was passed under the auspices of the noble Lord opposite, because the present grievance seemed to be much more obnoxious than that which he considered necessary to remove, for that was more a charge upon property than the Ministers' Money. He believed it was somewhere near 20,000l. a year. [A NOBLE LORD: No; 16,000l.] He (Lord Campbell) stated that the whole amount of the present tax was only between 13,000l. and 14,000l. a year. For the sake of that paltry sum all the different religious sects in Ireland were permitted to consider themselves as insulted. He would abstain from saying anything that could be considered at all offensive to the Protestant Church; but he was satisfied that the minister's money had a tendency to bring that establishment into direct odium. The tax was for ecclesiastical purposes; and any ecclesiastical property that could be discovered applicable to the purpose should be forthwith applied. He trusted that their Lordships would listen favourably to the prayer of the petition. They had been informed by Her Majesty's Ministers that on Monday next they would disclose their policy with regard to Ireland. It would give him (Lord Campbell), along with any measure which might be proposed for the amelioration of the unhappy state of Ireland at the present time, great pleasure to see some remedy for this particular grievance. The declaration that concession had reached its utmost limits to Ireland, had been very handsomely retracted. He believed that the right hon. Gentleman who made that statement was perfectly willing that a grand conflagration should take place in Palace Yard, and that all the volumes of "Hansard" should be burned; he himself being ready to apply the torch to the funeral pile. He (Lord Campbell) was sure that the removal of this grievance would have a favourable tendency upon the popular mind. He believed that it might be said of the Ministers' Money— My wound is great because it is so small, because it had been thought that the tax was held over the heads of the Roman Catholics and Presbyterians there, not for the sake of emolument, but as a mark of their continued degradation.


admitted that it was a practical grievance, but he differed from the noble Lord when he stated that it was a grievance in principle. The noble and learned Lord had referred to the establishment of the tax in the time of Charles II., and had stated it to be considered a mark of insult and degradation; but he had not adverted to the fact, that at that period the Roman Catholics were not capable of holding property, and, consequently, the tax fell exclusively upon the Protestant inhabitants in those towns. It had only been of comparatively recent date that the Roman Catholics had been capable of holding property; but now, they were capable of so doing, they acquired their houses subject to the payment of that tax—so that in point of principle it was a less strong case than that of tithe. It was, however, unquestionably a great practical grievance; it was leviable on the occupiers, not on the owners of property in towns; and it fell upon the poorer portions of the population. Those parts of the cities that were inhabited by the wealthy people in ancient times, were now inhabited by the lower classes; the rates remained the same as when first imposed; and they were not unfrequently levied by distress, and the goods and chattels of the poor people sold to pay the amount. There were clergymen who could afford to relinquish a portion of their incomes; and the law had consequently not been put in force against these unfortunate people by them; but there were others among the clergy who really could not afford to make such sacrifices, and in such cases the greatest hardship had been inflicted. It was, therefore, most desirable that some remedy should be applied. It was not, however, very easy to find funds out of which that tax could be paid, and it would be necessary to provide some other means for the maintenance of the Protestant clergy in those cities. He had turned his attention to the subject; but when he quitted office his plans were not matured. He was not able to say whether or not Her Majesty's Government were engaged in considering any measure for the removal of this grievance. He admitted it was practically a great grievance; but he denied that it was to be regarded either as an insult or an injury to the people of Ireland.


felt great satisfaction at what had fallen from the noble Lord who had just sat down; but would not enter into any theoretical discussion as to whether it was or was not a grievance in principle.


also differed from the noble Lord as to the Ministers' Money being a personal tax. It was a tax as much to be levied on house property in town, as tithes were upon landed property in the country. It stood precisely on the same footing. It was, in its nature, an ad valorem tax charged upon every house within corporate towns, for the maintenance of the clergy in those towns. Exactly in the same manner as the payment of tithes caused a diminished value to be given for landed property, so to that extent did the payment of the fixed amount of Ministers' Money deduct from the value of houses. If they gave any relief, in the shape of throwing the burdens upon the national of any other funds, the relief so given would be, in point of fact, a relief to the large proprietors within the towns from burdens which, when they purchased the property, they perfectly well understood it to be liable. He (Lord Stanley) could not, for his own part, see why property of that description should be relieved from burdens which the present proprietors and their predecessors had been subjected to ever since the reign of Charles II. The present question was precisely similar to that of tithes, and more especially to that of the commuted tithes. The noble and learned Lord had said that it did not differ from the vestry cess; but this was a payment regulated by law; the vestry cess was a tax fixed by the authorities with the consent of the several parishes in respect to it. But there was this peculiar grievance, that the vestry cess was a tithe charge upon all the inhabitants of the parish, for the purposes of the inhabitants generally, but levied exclusively by the votes of the Protestant inhabitants of the parish. It therefore partook, of the character of a tax paid by those who had no voice in its imposition, at the same time being of uncertain amount and not regulated by law. There was also this distinction between the present tax and the vestry cess, that the vestry cess was a voluntary tax in aid, the fund, which was in the first instance derivable from the first-fruits and tenths being insufficient for the sustentation of the fabrics; but the clergy were exempted from first-fruits and tenths at the time when the vestry cess was abolished, leaving elsewhere the charge necessary for keeping up the fabrics. He trusted he had shown the noble and learned Lord that the present tax, if he would not admit it to be of the same character as tithe, stood upon an entirely different footing from vestry cess. It was a relief to the parish to a certain extent to take off the charges upon first-fruits and tenths. If they relieved the proprietors of houses in great towns from this payment, they stripped the clergy of the only provision for their maintenance, just as much so as though the landed proprietors were to be relieved from the payment of tithe, and the payment of tithe was provided for out of the funds of the State. He could not see any sufficient reason for making the exemption. He agreed with his noble Friend (Lord St. Germans) that it was a practical grievance. The payment of these small sums from the occupiers of small houses should be deducted from the payment to the landlord. If any mode could be adopted by which this tax could be commuted, or any plan could be suggested wherein it could be levied together with other municipal rates, or if it could be made a tax upon the owners of property in towns, he believed it would be a great improvement. But as he (Lord Stanley) did not feel in 1836, he did not feel now in 1846, that Ministers' Money, whether paid in Ireland, London, or Edinburgh, was a charge which the owners of property in large towns had a right to expect to be relieved from, or that it was a burden to be thrown upon the general community, who were charged with the maintenance of the clergy at home precisely in the same manner as the property in the town was charged.


did not understand that the abolition of this mode of payment was proposed without an equivalent. Indeed, of all classes of the Irish clergy, the parochial clergy in some of the older parts of the corporate towns were just the class least remunerated in proportion to their labours. But though the principle of this tax was the same with that of tithes, the operation was grievously different, for it fell upon poor persons, who could sometimes only pay it by the sale of their household furniture; it was an old tax, not adapted to modern times, and instead of being ad valorem, it was contra valorem, falling upon those parts of a town which were the poorest. It was, therefore, infinitely worse than tithes; and a remedy ought to be found. Many clergymen, it seemed, felt obliged to give up their due, under this system; but that was not a right position for them to be placed in.

Petition read and ordered to lie on the Table.

The House adjourned at a quarter to Six.

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