HL Deb 05 March 1869 vol 194 cc684-91

rose to move for a Return of all Acts of Parliament whereby property belonging to any person, corporation, or trust has been taken from such person, corporation, or trust without their consent, and without securing to them full compensation for the property so taken, or without offence being charged against such person, corporation, or trust justifying such confiscation. Their Lordships would no doubt perceive that his Motion had reference to the proceedings now pursuing in regard to the Church in Ireland, and it was important they should know what had been done by Government and by Parliament hitherto with regard to such property. His belief was that the Return would afford no precedent for such proceedings as these with regard to the Irish Church, and if any statutes were to be found which dealt with any analogous subject they were such as their Lordships would scarcely wish to adopt as a precedent. A great deal of misconception, he thought, had arisen from the use of the terms which were now employed. The substitution of "disendowment" for "confiscation" seemed to have misled many persons as to the character of the movement. "Disendowment" meant "confiscation." In whatever was left to the Church after the legislation which was now commenced there would be no disendowment, and whatever was taken from the Church was pure "confiscation." Parliament, in dealing with property, had always, and especially of late years, been most careful to secure to all parties, whose property was interfered with by legislation, proper compensation for any damage, or for any compulsion which they had to submit to. Parliament had been most careful in that respect in all Improvement Acts, in all Railway Acts, and in all Acts for public works. It might be said that in the present case com- pensation would be provided, but he denied that compensation was provided for many of the parties who were thoroughly entitled to receive it. The clergy did not alone constitute the Church; the laity were as much a part of the Church as were the clergy—and in the scheme now before Parliament, particular care was taken that the laity should be represented in the governing body to which the charge of the Irish Church was to be committed. But no compensation whatever was proposed to be given to the laity for that which was to be taken away from them. He had heard it said that there was a technical ground for that, inasmuch as none of the property of the Church was vested in the laity, and that all who had vested interests in the property, clergymen, patrons, and others would be compensated. But the laity, who were to have services which were extremely valuable taken away from them, were to receive no compensation whatever. Now it was notorious that many persons had rights over the property of others, which rights could not be taken from them or could not be infringed upon without compensation being provided. If a man had a house on the extreme verge of his property, and overlooking the property of another, he had a claim to the lights which he enjoyed from that property, and those rights could not be taken away, and if the owner of that property desired to erect any building on his own land which would interfere with them, he must obtain consent and pay compensation. In like manner a right of way which any man possessed over the property of another could not be taken from him or interfered with without entitling him to compensation. In like manner the laity have a claim on the property vested in the clergy for rights enjoyed by them from that property, and applying the instances of light and way before mentioned to those rights, it would be found that the laity were in possession of the light of the Gospel, which they had received from the Church for ages; which it was now proposed to take from them, without any compensation. In like manner, the laity had a road open to them—the road to salvation—through the Church which taught them; but it was proposed to take that away also, and without compensation. The rights of the laity-had not been at all considered in the measure now before Parliament, and it was important that those rights should be maintained. The Return for which he moved had some reference to the position of the Government; for if no previous Act of Parliament could be found of a similar character to the Bill now before Parliament on the subject of the Irish Church, the present Government would stand in the position of interfering with the rights of property in a manner which was, in fact, the commencement of a revolution. The primary object of government, as defined by Lord Macaulay, and by other authorities against whom no objection could be raised, was the protection of the lives and property of the people, and that definition had been accepted and published by the present Premier, in his recent autobiographical sketch. If that primary object was departed from in the least degree, the proper application of that definition was at once upset. As a homely instance he might say that the police and magistrates were founded for the protection of life and property; but if the police were all thieves and the magistrates supported them, the primary object of both would be destroyed, and the public would not believe in the security of property. In like manner if a Government became spoilers of property in one instance, and Parliament abetted that spoliation, what security was there that the primary object of Government would be respected, and that spoliation would not be earned out in other instances? The reason assigned for the present movement against the Irish Church was that the majority of the population of Ireland were Roman Catholics, and were jealous of the possession of this property by its present owners, who were the minority and from whom they differed. Now, common sense would at once show that no doctrine could be more dangerous than that, because one class were jealous of the possession of property by another, Parliament might step in and appropriate it on such terms as it thought fit. Dangerous as such a doctrine was as regarded property generally, it was peculiarly so when applied to Ireland, for it was notorious that, over a large portion of that country, the occupiers of land held that the legal owners, who were of course a minority, were not entitled to it, and that they themselves ought to be the owners. This, in truth, is the "land question" which is the question of the day in Ireland. The tenant has often often enforced his view of it by murder, and the principle on which it is proposed to despoil the Church may be applied to the landlords, and lead to a fearful social convulsion. He believed that last Session he was the first to apply to disendowment its proper name of sacrilege; and, though hard words had been applied to him on that account, he maintained that the definition was undeniable. No one who knew the definition of the word would contradict him. Johnson called it "the crime of appropriating to oneself of what had been devoted to religion." A frightful crime was involved in an act of sacrilege, and he challenged anyone to show that the appropriation of what had for centuries belonged to the Church and the services of religion to the relief of the county cess was anything else than sacrilege. It being necessary to find some good reason why Parliament should commit such an act, it was argued by that portion of the Press which supported this policy that the people, at the late election, had declared in favour of those beautiful words "disestablishment" and "disendowment," and that it only remained to consider how to carry out this foregone conclusion. Now, his political experience and acquaintance with history did not dispose him to think that the decision of the people at a General Election was always a reliable basis of action. It was no uncommon thing for the people to reverse the decision of one General Election at the succeeding one, and he thought, in the present case, if there were another General Election at no distant period the decision might probably be the other way. There could be no justification, therefore, on this ground for the crime of sacrilege, and he believed that the more those who were called upon to decide this question reflected on the personal responsibility resting upon them, the less inclined would they be to divert to secular purposes property which had so long been devoted to the cause of religion and truth. Some of the arrangements proposed appeared to him to be exceedingly objectionable. Tithes were to be disposed of to the landowners at twenty-two-and-a-half years' purchase. Now, did anybody believe that this proposal had any other object than to conciliate the landed proprietors, who were, for the most part, Protestants, and who strongly objected to the scheme on religious as well as on political grounds, believing it to be not only impolitic but sinful? Nothing was commonly deemed more profligate than to try and bribe people to do what they believed to be wrong or wicked; yet what was this proposal but an offer of property to the landed proprietors at a reduced rate as a profitable investment, in order that they might be induced to accept what they felt to be wrong? He wondered this view of the matter had not occurred to the promoters of the Bill. He could only attribute this, and the manner in which the measure had been received by many to that blindness of heart which was so common a cause of mistakes and sins, and which prevented so many people from seeing the question in its true aspect, and perhaps it may be partly attributed to the terms in which, the scheme was disguised. He would submit to the consideration of the House two cases. Suppose a man were to say to another—" I know you are extremely favourable to a particular charity; it is one which confers great benefit on many, and might confer benefit on a great many more if we had sufficient funds; I think, if you would assist, we could do something to augment those funds"—the reply would be—"Well, I should be most happy to do so, but what do you propose?" If the answer was—" Why, I wish you to commit an act of petty larceny; I assure you we are safe against detection, and we will devote the money exclusively to the charity," what would anybody of right principles say? Would he not tell the man who so addressed him—"Much as I wish to benefit the charity, I think your proposition disgraceful to yourself and insulting to me?" Suppose the same man soon after to meet another who should say to him, "Will you join me in a movement which will bring our party into Office, and probably keep them there, and which will conciliate the Roman Catholics in Ireland?" and should reply to him—"These are excellent objects, what do you wish me to do?" and if the answer should be—"Only to commit an act of sacrilege without any risk to yourself," ought not the reply to be the same as in the former case? Where was the difference between them? In the one the crime was petty larceny, in the other sacrilege; in the one the proceeds were to be devoted to an excellent charity, in the other—along with a little personal advantage and a party triumph—the state of Ireland was to be improved. Why, then, has the answer been so different in too many instances? Was it the prospect of party success, or the use of new phrases which had concealed from many the sacrilege lurking under the proposal, and produced that blindness of heart under which so many suffer. Speciously as the scheme had been brought forward, he hoped that, on reflection, its true character would be recognized, and that all honest men would become sensible of the fearful responsibility they incurred in supporting it.

Moved, That there be laid before this House, a return of all Acts of Parliament whereby property belonging to any person, corporation, or trust has been taken from such person, corporation, or trust without their consent, and without securing to them full compensation for the property so taken, or without offence being charged against such person, corporation, or trust justifying such confiscation.—(The Lord Redesdale.)


said, that he had stated on a former evening that his noble Friend was one of the best men of business in the House, and the one most conversant with its usual practice, and, therefore, he was never more surprised than when his noble Friend, on coming down to the House the other evening, on his first appearance this Session, gave his Notice of Motion. Part of the noble Lord's speech had been marked by that strong religious feeling and earnestness for which he was conspicuous, while in other parts he had indulged in some facetious comparisons of the policy of the Government to the commission of petty larceny. Now, he (Earl Granville) fully admitted the right of the House to anticipate by discussion, in whole or in part, the question of the Irish Church, that measure which might possibly be sent to them, and to which the noble Lord had somewhat irregularly referred. But if so important a question was to be discussed, he thought he had at least a right to claim that due and fair notice of such an intention should be given. With regard to the proposed Return, he had consulted a most learned Friend, as to what it could mean, and whether it referred to the Irish Church. The reply was that it must refer to endowed schools, and could not relate to the Irish Church, because a man like the noble Chairman of Committees must be aware that the Church was not a corporation, and was not legally a trust, while no proposal had been made to take away a single sixpenny worth of property from any person possessing it. Under those circumstances, he would only say that while his Colleagues and himself would not shrink from discussing any of these questions, if brought forward after due and proper notice, he thought the House would agree with him that he had better not continue the present debate. With regard to the Order itself, to whom was it to be addressed? If it should be addressed to any Department of the Government, the usual course would have been an Address to the Crown; but he did not see that any Department could undertake the work, and he believed, technically it would be addressed to the Clerk of the Parliaments. Now, had he a doubt on any subject involving political, historical, legal, or moral questions, there was no one to whose judgment and knowledge he would sooner appeal than to his learned Friend (Sir John Lefevre); but he protested against forcing upon any officer of the House the gigantic task of not only wading through the entire Statute-book, but also of deciding upon those questions of fact and law which were involved in this Order. The noble Lord would, perhaps, consent to omit the latter part of the Motion, and insert instead, "with the reasons stated in such Acts for the appropriation or transfer of such property." The labour would, he thought, be very great, and the facts might not turn out of much use; but possibly they might assist the House, when the subject came to be discussed, in deciding whether the views of the noble Lord were sound, or whether the opinions of men like Hallam and Sir James Mackintosh were right; that there was no principle to be found sufficient to refute the common notion that private and public property stood on a different footing.

An Amendment moved to leave out from ("consent") to the end of the Motion, and insert ("together with the reasons stated in such Acts for the appropriation of such property."—(The Earl Granville.)


, in reply, said, the alteration suggested by the noble Earl, which would, include all cases in which compensation had been given for property taken, and was consequently the reverse of what he had moved for, would bring in Railway and all other Public Improvement Acts, and immensely increase a labour which otherwise would be extremely light. As to the wording of his Notice he thought it obviously had an application to the case of the Irish Church. The noble Earl had not attempted to answer his arguments, not desiring, as he said, to enter into the question now. The noble Earl had objected that the Irish Church was not a corporation; but he must be aware that every Bishop, dean, rector and vicar was a corporation sale, and he (Lord Redesdale) had used the words "person, corporation, or trust" as covering all public or private property. He should be the last person to press for the Return if he thought it would impose much labour on the officers of the House, but he believed very little investigation would be necessary, and that the Return would be that no such Act was to be found.


said, he hoped the noble Lord would withdraw the Motion. He could not think it desirable that such a Return should be ordered for the mere purpose of supporting an argument which the noble Lord could use quite as effectually without it as with it.


said, he had no objection to withdraw the Motion on the ground stated by the noble Earl (Earl Grey). If it was admitted that there was no Act of the kind, the fact was sufficient for his purpose, and he would not give unnecessary trouble.

Then the said Amendment and the original Motion (by leave of the House) withdrawn.