HC Deb 21 May 1805 vol 5 cc41-5

The order of the day being read for going into a committee on the Stipendiary Curates' bill,

Lord Porchester

opposed the bill as unjust, illegal, and unconstitutional in its principle, and unwarrantably disposing of the property of beneficed clergymen, who, from illness, infirmity, or other unavoidable causes, might become non-resident; in which case, at the option or caprice of the diocesan, a gentleman was liable, by the bill, to be deprived of one-fifth of the Value of his whole living, to enrich a curate appointed by the bishop to do duty in his parish. It would not be denied that the revenues of the church were as much private property as any other tenures, subject only to the condition that the clerical duties should be properly performed. If the incumbents, therefore; were not culpable, their rights should not be affected; and if they found proper substitutes to perform their duty when circumstances rendered them incapable of doing so themselves, it was as much as parliament had a right to expect of them. By the law hitherto in force, the power of the bishop was limited to an allowance of 50l. or at most 75l. to curates, according to circumstances, and he did not hear that any application had been made by curates, stating, that they had not a proper allowance, or by bishops, that they had not sufficient power to grant it to them. There was no proof either that the incumbents did not provide proper persons to perform the necessary functions; and he would therefore ask, what occasion there was for this bill? If the measure went upon an erroneous principle, he was aware of nothing which could do away that objection. This innovation went to no less than to give to curates three times the salary that they were allowed before, and infinitely more than was necessary for providing substitutes. By this bill, the power of the bishop would be exorbitant; for if he thought it right to have more than one curate, he might appropriate one-third of the whole income of the incumbent. There were, he understood, some rectories of 3,000l. a year, and surely it would be preposterous to deprive the person who held such a living of 1,000l. a year, for the purposes of curacy. The legislators had already amerced the incumbents for non-residence, and it was rather too hard to lay this second fine upon them. He strongly objected to such decisive authority being given to bishops, and the more so, as the bill left no appeal whatever from their fiat, but to the archbishop of Canterbury. If such a principle was proceeded upon, a bishop within his diocese would become a more uncontroulable despot than any first consul or emperor of the French. It was defective also, as it gave no security that the curate thus amply provided for, should himself be resident upon his cure; it did not authorise the bishops in that respect to do good, and gave them every power of doing injury to the incumbent; it did not go to accomplish the object that was professedly proposed by it; and, if it was thought right to institute an ecclesiastical reform, it should be done openly, and not in so indirect a manner. He considered the. measure to he connected with circumstances of extreme cruelty, in obliging the vicar to make great sacrifices to the detriment of his family, when grown old in the service of the church. The parliament had, some time since, decided, that a man who took to priests orders, could not, afterwards, turn his attention to other pursuits; and, as the present measure would tend to deprive youth of its prospects, and age of its support, he should resist the motion for the speaker's leaving the chair.

Mr. I. H. Browne

defended the bill, conceiving it to he but just and necessary that those incumbents who did not perform the duty which their situation required of them, should be obliged to pay the curates who performed that duty for them. That was simply the object of the bill, and therefore he approved of it. Any faults it contained might, in his opinion, be easily corrected in the committee.

Mr. Western

said, he had, on a former occasion, shortly stated his reasons for not approving this bill, and he would now, as briefly as possible, repeat his objections to it. He thought it was an attack and infringement on the property of the clergy, which the house had not a right to make. He thought also, that vesting a power in the bishop to give away so much of the revenues of the rector, as one-fifth of the value of his living, was subjecting the more opulent members of the church to a too great dependence on the bishops For these reasons he should object to the speaker's leaving the chair.

Mr. Burton

spoke in favour of the bill. He said, the house, the glebe, the tithes, and other property, were not the objects of the bill; the real objects were, the du ties of the rector, and these were very necessary to be attended to. Nothing could so much insure their due performance, as the residence of the rector or vicar; and if he did not reside there, there should certainly be a regular and ample provision for the person who officiated in his place, and performed his sacred duty; which did not merely consist in reading prayers, preaching, visiting the sick, marrying persons, &c. but also in keeping up a respectable and social hospitality, and distributing alms in the neighbourhood. It had been objected, that the provisions in this bill were of a novel nature, and the noble lord had said it was a reform in the clerical system. The hon. members, however, who supposed this, were certainly mistaken. In very old times, indeed, this power had been vested in the bishops. As it would be easy to obviate many objections, and to render the bill more agreeable to all parties in a committee, he should certainly vote for the speaker's leaving the chair.

Mr. C. Wynne

said, he thought there were some parts of the bill which were highly objectionable; but as these might be modified, obviated, or totally altered, he certainly should vote that the bill go to a committee.

Sir J. C. Hippisley

said, that he did not rise to oppose going into a committee, but what he had to say was applicable rather to the high duties attached to the spiritual functions of the clergy, and to guard against their violation, than to interfere with the temporalities of their benefices. He was aware that some difficulty and embarrassment was involved with the subject that he should mention, yet in a choice of difficulties and evils it was ever prudent to choose the least. His object was to empower the bishop, in certain cases, to appoint a stipendiary curate, ad interim, where the misconduct of any beneficed person should seem to demand it. It was painful to him to particularize the circumstances on which he founded his motion for these observations, but it was but too true, that in the county in which he resided, bills of indictment had been preferred against three clergymen, within a short space of time, in the same year, for attempts to commit offences at which human nature revolts. It was to empower the bishop to appoint a curate when such charges came to the length of an indictment, that he wished to see a clause introduced in to this or some other bill; and he wished rather that it should be thus collaterally introduced, than make it the subject of a bill in itself.

Mr. Barham

was against the bill. He thought it would diminish the value of livings, and it was therefore a direct violation of property. Another objection to it with him was, that it very much increased the power of the bishops. It had been said there was no danger with them of that being abused. Ha had as high and respectful an opinion of the bishops of this country as any man could have, and believed them to be very good men, and highly honourable characters. He should, however, vote against the speaker leaving the chair.

Mr. Fellowes

said he highly approved the bill, though there were some parts of it which he hoped to see improved in the committee.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

denied the principle contended for by the noble lord, and the other opposers of the bill, that the property of a beneficed clergyman in his living was of the same nature as his landed estate. Such, indeed, Was the property of the advowson, but such was the jealousy of the law on this point, that for the patron to sell the next presentation to that advowson, would be a simoniacal bargain. The living, on the contrary, was to be considered rather as a freehold tenure held upon certain conditions of service; but he should like to know where was the injustice or the tyranny in obliging a man to pay another for the performance of that service which he did not choose to perform himself, and upon the condition of which he held the tenure. The tenure of a clergyman in his living was also held upon the indispensable condition of rendering services inseparably connected with the religion, the morality, and the loyalty of the country. To whom must the country look for the support of loyalty amongst the people, but to the resident clergymen of the established church, who, by their own doctrine and example, have at all times so eminently promoted the cause of loyalty amongst their parishioners? A bill had been recently passed by the house, enforcing the residence of the clergy under the direction of the bishops, to whom it gave extensive powers; which powers this bill restricted rather than enlarged; for it only authorized the bishops to assign one-fifth of the income of the living, where it exceeded 400l. a year, to the maintenance of a curate to do the duty of a clergyman who did not chuse to do it himself, or provide any other resident clergyman to do it. Now, what portion of the whole mass of the beneficed clergy in England would this go to affect? Why, not a fortieth part: for a great number of the beneficed clergy already stood excused from residence on account of deaneries, chaplaincies, fellowships, and other duties elsewhere.—The question being called for, a division took place; ayes 57; noes 23; majority 34.—The house having resolved itself into the committee, a conversation took place on the clause respecting the allowance to be made to curates, and Mr. Creevey submitted a proposition to alter the scale of allowance; upon which a division took place; ayes 11; noes 47; majority 36.—Adjourned