HL Deb 26 June 1857 vol 146 cc433-42

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.


* My Lords, in rising, as I gave notice, to move that the third reading of this Bill be deferred to this day six months, I am sensible of the great disadvantage under which I labour, in consequence of the declaration of the noble Earl, who is the acknowledged leader of the Conservative party in this House, that he would offer no further opposition to the Bill. The state of the House sufficiently indicates the influence which the noble Earl exercises over those that commonly act with him, an influence to which I am myself by no means insensible, arising, as it does, from his high character, combined with eminent abilities—and it is never without great hesitation and reluctance that I venture to separate from the noble Earl in the treatment of any political question; but deference to the opinion of another must have a limit; and, having maturely considered the case as it now stands of the Bill before the House, and my duty with regard to it, I feel that I should do injustice, no less to the force of my noble Friend's arguments against the Bill than to my own convictions, if I did not go on with that opposition to it which, as an hereditary counsellor of the Crown, it is my duty to offer to any measure that ought not to receive the Royal Assent. I certainly understood the noble Earl to say, when he addressed your Lordships on the second reading, that his opposition to the Bill would be uncompromising, and the very full House that heard him expressed by their votes their cordial approval of such opposition. Great indeed, then, was my surprise when, on the question of the Bill being committed, my noble Friend, almost in the same breath that he reiterated his objections to the measure, declared that he would not oppose its further progress. I deplore this decision, involving, as the Bill does, the most objectionable principles, and fraught as it is with wrong and injustice, it ought to have been opposed to the last, even if the deliberative voice of the House had been less unequivocally expressed in reprobation of it than it was upon the second reading. The noble Earl despaired of being able successfully to oppose the Bill; but I am quite sure that the more it received consideration, the less would be the support of it, and the greater the number of its opponents. But upon one point my noble Friend was certainly in error, when he said, when withdrawing his opposition, that he threw the responsibility of the Bill upon the Government. My Lords, you cannot shrink from the duty of rejecting the Bill, without involving yourselves in the responsibility of advising its enactment, and in that responsibility every noble Lord will be included who either votes for it or withholds from voting against it. The Government has, no doubt, much to answer for in having submitted such a measure to Parliament; but from the moment that it passes this House the responsibility of it will be upon your Lordships, and not upon the Government. Nor do I think the noble Earl was in a position to say when he withdrew from opposing the Bill, Liberavi animam meam. The great influence the noble Earl exercises in the deliberations of the House pointed him out as the only Member under whose leadership the House could be saved from the discreditable act of passing this Bill; when, therefore, he withdrew, his mission was yet unfulfilled. In the House of Commons, so recently elected by constituencies favourable to the Government, the ready acceptance of the Bill as a Government measure was no matter of surprise; but its acceptance by your Lordships, by whom its principle and provisions could be and were more carefully and fully considered, and whose bounden duty it is to prevent any wrongful measure from being submitted for the Royal Assent, will grievously disappoint public expectation, and especially those who have been wont to look with confidence to this branch of the Legislature as Conservative of the great Protestant institutions of the country. If your opposition to the Bill was to have been limited to a mere exposure of its deformities, and you were to have acquiesced in its adoption directly you had shown it to be one that you ought not to sanction, far better would it have been from the beginning not to have opposed it at all; better would it have been to have spared the Government the exposure of the weak and unstatesmanlike grounds upon which they recommended it, and to have kept out of view the true character of a measure so calculated to imperil the Protestant establishment, and to bring the law into contempt; far better would it have been simply to have passed it as a Bill of indemnity in behalf of a Government that had been unfaithful to the first of its duties, that of causing the law to be impartially and firmly administered; but the House—those I mean who attended in their places—having gone fully into the merits of the Bill and heard all that could be said in its favour, voted against having anything further to do with it; they declined giving the Government an act of indemnity—they told them it was their duty to uphold and vindicate the law, and, if necessary, to have it strengthened; they declined being a party to abstracting from the funds in the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners the pittance by which the incomes of clergymen of less than £100 a year might be assisted; they refused to offer reward to those who disobeyed or resisted the law; they rejected the measure as one utterly unworthy to be entertained in this House. Having done all this, though your decision was overruled by the votes of thirty-six absent Peers, whose proxies were in the hands of the Government, your Lordships ought to have persevered in opposing the Bill. With reference to the use made of the proxies upon the occasion, I ventured, on the question of going into Committee on the Bill, to point out as a reason for not proceeding with it, that the form of the preamble was not in consistency with fact; that supposing the Bill to receive the Royal Assent, it could not truly be said to be "enacted by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal and Commons in Parliament assembled," for this simple reason, that the Lords Spiritual and Temporal so assembled neither advised nor consented to, but, on the contrary, in a very full House by a majority of six rejected the Bill. Their decision was reversed, as I have already mentioned, by the proxies of thirty-six absent Peers, who may have known nothing about the measure that had been discussed, and who probably little thought that their unenlightened votes had been employed to set aside the result of the deliberations of the House, numbering 230 Peers present, and that the Crown was to be thus deprived in a most important act of legislation of the advice of the assembled Lords of Parliament. My Lords, I received no answer or explanation upon the point I had felt it my duty to submit for consideration. The Government, who, by calling for proxies after the assembled Peers had rejected the Bill, created the anomaly I complain of, may have wished it to pass unnoticed; but public opinion will not tolerate in the making of the laws by which this great country is to be governed, such an abuse of the privileges of the Peerage. I will not, my Lords, after the very full consideration that the provisions of this Bill have already undergone, trouble your Lordships by discussing them anew; but before I sit down I must advert to one argument, upon which reliance was chiefly placed by the Government in favour of the Bill. It was represented as a measure for the removal of a grievance from the Roman Catholics of Ireland. My Lords, I ask, does the Government admit it to be a grievance for a Roman Catholic to be called upon to pay a demand subject to which he purchased his property, simply because the payment would be applied to the support of the Established religion? If this is to be considered a grievance from which relief may be claimed, what Roman Catholic owner of a bishop's lease, or what occupier of lands belonging to our Protestant collegiate institutions may not, with equal reason, claim to be relieved from the payment of the reserved rent? or, to take a case more exactly analogous to that under consideration, what payer of the tithe rentcharge is there that might not, with the encouragement held out to him by this Bill, refuse to pay? It is said that Mr. S. Herbert will derive great pecuniary benefit from this Bill. Is he an aggrieved Roman Catholic? Has he petitioned your Lordships for relief? Is there any evidence upon your table that the payment of ministers' money is regarded as a grievance? Has there been a single petition presented to your Lordships in favour of the Bill? No, my Lords, there lie upon the table no less than 108 petitions from different parts of Ireland, including some from members of the Presbyterian body, against the Bill, but not one in its favour. The only petitioners to your Lordships are Her Majesty's Ministers. They pray you to exonerate them from the grievance of having to enforce a collection that they have very improperly allowed to get into arrear; they pray you to absolve them from the responsibility they have thus incurred. They pray you to sanction them in laying hands upon a fund which the Ecclesiastical Commissioners are entrusted with for the building and repairing of churches and other important objects connected with the Protestant Establishment; and they pray you to sanction this monstrous injustice, not for any public object—not on account of any proved necessity—not on any ground that they have put forward, but to enable them to distribute to the constituencies of eight corporate towns, returning each one or more Members to Parliament, a sum of from £12,000 to £13,000 a year, abstracted from the revenues of the Established Church. Such at least, and no other, will be the practical effect of the Bill if it should become law. I do not think the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland would desire the meed of the unjust steward which the passing of this Bill would obtain for him. Its supporters will, no doubt, be gratified by being called "liberal Protestants," and the Government receive from that party in Ireland, which is returned to Parliament under the designation of the "independent opposition," whose avowed and primary object is the destruction of the Protestant Establishment, a large amount of Parliamentary support, for which, all unconsciously I would hope, they are paying so heavy a price. The Bill is one for the partial disendowment of the Established Church, and as such it will be gratefully acknowledged as an earnest of what may be farther effected by resistance to the law. There is at present very little of agitation in Ireland, no more, in fact, than might reasonably be expected in a free country, where it is the right of every man—a right that I hope will always be freely exercised—to canvass the reasons and principles of the laws and institutions under which he lives. But by this Bill a stimulus will be given to agitation of a very different character: it will afford at once a precedent and encouragement to a systematic attack upon the temporalities of the Church, and thence upon the rights of property generally, and your power, and the power of the Government in meeting it, will be seriously impaired by the policy to which you will have committed yourselves upon this occasion. My Lords, I will not further detain you; I regret that the defence of the temporalities of the Church against this wanton act of aggression should have devolved upon one so weak and uninfluential as the individual who now addresses you. Circumstanced as I am in the opposition I am offering to the Bill, I apprehend that the Vote I purpose recording upon the present occasion will only serve as a personal vindication, a kind of protest against having any part or share in the perpetration of a great legislative wrong; that others, however, may have the like opportunity, I beg to move that the third reading of this Bill be deferred for six months.

Amendment moved, to leave out "now," and insert "this day six months."


said, that he should briefly state the course he meant to pursue; but he neither intended to repeat his speech against the Bill, nor, on the other hand, to defend it, as the noble Earl appeared to imagine. Neither should he repeat the reasons he had given on a former occasion for relinquishing any further opposition to the Bill; but he begged to state that those reasons had received, in writing, the approbation of the most rev. Primate of all Ireland (the Archbishop of Dublin) to whom the noble Earl had referred on a former occasion, and who had approved of the course which he (the Earl of Derby) had taken, as the only course, in fact, which could be adopted. The noble Earl had spoken of the influence which he (the Earl of Derby) was supposed to possess as having prevented a greater attendance of Peers to oppose the Bill. Now, he had to assure the noble Earl that he had said nothing, except those few words which he had on a former occasion spoken in that House, to induce noble Lords to withdraw further opposition; and from the state of their Lordships' benches on his (the Earl of Derby's) side, the noble Earl could judge what proportion of the Peers who sat on that side had approved of his (the Earl of Derby's) opinion, and what proportion of them had adopted the views of the noble Earl. He should be sorry to have it supposed that he at all relaxed in his opposition to the Bill; he retained all his objections to it upon principle, and he found himself placed in this difficult position—that he could not possibly vote in favour of the Bill; while, on the other hand, he had given an assurance to the Government that he should not offer any further opposition to it, and the state of the House showed the reliance which Her Majesty's Ministers had placed upon his good faith. Under these circumstances he should not give them any reason to cast any reflection upon his good faith; and, therefore, he should not vote at all upon this occasion.


said, it would be in the recollection of the House, that previous to going into Committee on this Bill he moved, on the part of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, that their petition to be heard by counsel at the bar against the measure should be complied with. In making that proposition he took occasion to refer to a statement made in the other House of Parliament by the late Secretary for Ireland (Mr. Horsman), as containing at exaggerated account of the funds in the hands of the Commissioners, and he intimated that possibly the majority obtained in the House of Commons had been very materially influenced by such a statement coming from so high an authority as the late Secretary for Ireland. In making those remarks, he at the same time observed that he did not mean to impeach in the slightest degree the integrity of the right hon. Gentleman, as he believed that he considered the documents on which he based his statement to be perfectly authentic; but this expression of his confidence in the right hon. Gentleman's integrity did not appear in the published reports of his speech. Mr. Horsman, on seeing his observations in the papers, wrote to him on the subject, and a correspondence took place which ended in his (the Earl of Wicklow) seeing the accounts and documents on which the right hon. Gentleman made his statement in the House of Commons; and he was, after seeing them, perfectly convinced that there was nothing in the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman which was not taken directly from the public accounts before him. To explain the manner in which these accounts came into his hands, Mr. Horsman sent him a letter which he would take the liberty to read to the House. [The noble Earl here read a letter from Mr. Horsman. It stated, in effect, that an important circumstance had been kept from the knowledge of his Lordship, that on the 29th of May, when the House of Commons went into Committee on the Bill, Mr. Hamilton, one of the Members for the University of Dublin, took him aside in the course of the evening, and, showing him papers with which he had been furnished by the Commissioners to make an explanatory statement said, it would be more agreeable to the Commissioners if that statement was made by him (Mr. Horsman); that in this request he acquiesced, and wrote down from Mr. Hamilton's dictation the statement he was to make on the part of the Commissioners to the House; that Mr. Hamilton assured him this course would be perfectly satisfactory to the Commissioners if he would undertake it, and that on this assurance he made the statement on behalf of the Commissioners to the surprise of many of his friends; that he was much surprised when he saw that the Earl of Wicklow had alluded to the subject in the House of Lords, as he could not bring himself to believe that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, on whose behalf his Lordship spoke, were capable of so gross a breach of faith after the assurance he had received that his statement would be perfectly satisfactory to them.] Now, he had appeared before their Lordships the other evening, and made use of documents, at the instance of the Commissioners, and to him it was perfectly incomprehensible, after reading the papers which he held in his hand, how the Commissioners could have thought of renewing the attack, or of asking him to do so. Mr. Horsman expressed his surprise, but his surprise was not greater than his own, for he need hardly say, that if he had known of such an arrangement as had been entered into with the right hon. Gentleman, he would not have taken the part which he did the other evening. He could assure their Lordships that it would be a long time before he took charge of a case again.


said, nothing could be more fair or straightforward than the statement just made by his noble Friend. He was certainly very much annoyed at the accusations made against Mr. Horsman the other evening; and it was his intention to make some reply on the third reading, after having ascertained the facts, until he found that Mr. Horsman had wisely put himself in communication with the noble Earl. In the name of Mr. Horsman he thanked the noble Earl for the fair and honourable course which he had now pursued. The noble Earl who had just quitted the House (the Earl of Derby) had left to Her Majesty's Government the further defence of the Bill. He knew that the noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Clancarty) was not a man to be convinced by arguments. In this case, indeed, he did not wish to convince him. He had announced that it was his intention to divide the House on the third reading, and, wishing that the Bill might go forth so as to meet with general approbation in Ireland, he was glad that the division would be taken under circumstances which would be favourable to that result.


repeated that he considered this so flagrant an act of spoliation of the Established Church, and as establishing so dangerous a precedent, that, however small might be the minority, he felt bound for the last time to record his vote against it.


recommended the noble Viscount to withdraw his opposition, and leave the responsibility on the Government. All he proposed to do might be effected by a protest.

After a few words from the Earl of CLANCARTY,

On Question, That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Motion? their Lordships divided:—Contents 23; Not-Contents 7: Majority 16.

Resolved in the Affirmative: Bill read 3a accordingly: Amendments moved, and negatived; and Bill passed.

Cranworth, L. (L. Chancellor.) Granard, L. (E. Granard.)
Oriel, L. (V.Massereene.)
Ailesbury, M.
Ponsonby, L. (E. Bessborough.) [Teller.]
Albemarle, E.
Clarendon, E. Rivers, L.
Granville, E. Somerhill, L. (M. Clanricarde.)
Harrowby, E.
Stanley of Alderley, L.
Sydney, V. Stuart de Decies, L.
Sundridge, L. (D. Argyll.)
Carew, L.
Churchill, L. Talbot de Malahide, L.
Congleton, L. Wrottesley, L.
Dartrey, L. (L. Cremorne.) Wycombe, L. (E. Shelburne.)
Foley, L. [Teller.]
Desart, E. Dungannon, V. [Teller.]
Mayo, E.
Berners, L.
Clancarty, V. (E. Clancarly.) [Teller.] Castlemaine, L.
Denman, L.