HC Deb 08 June 1808 vol 11 cc833-41

The Chancellor of the Exchequer moved the order of the day for a committee on this bill. On the question for leaving the chair,

Mr. Western

objected to the measure, as calculated to interfere without any cause, with the property of the Church, which was as well entitled to the protection of the law as any other, and likely to affect the independence of the Church, as well as to countenance unfounded clamours against beneficed clergymen.

Mr. C. Wynne

supported the general principle of the bill, inasmuch as it went to provide an adequate income for the resident officiating clergyman. Residence was the duty of the Rector, and it was due to the parish, that the officiating clergyman should have a sufficient provision to enable him to live as; a gentleman. If the rector accepted a second benefice, it could not be a hardship upon him to make a proper allowance to the curate, who discharged the duty in the parish in which be did not reside.

Mr. Creevey

considered the bill a direct violation of property, which had ever been respected. The stipend of a curate had, about twelve years since, been fixed at 75l. per ann. This should be the model of any change which might hereafter become necessary. In the present instance, he saw no reason for this dangerous encroachment on property. The stipend of 200l. would often be the greatest injustice to the clergy, who were the original proprietors, and sometimes it would be found to exceed the trouble of the situation. To attack the vital principles of property, in this way, was to imitate the worst acts of the worst period of the French Revolution. But why should this system of robbery be directed only against rectorial property? If it were necessary to increase the salaries of the lower orders, why not do so at the expense of the bishops, deans, and chapters? It was a petty fear of offending them; and the bill only armed them with fresh power, while it injured the rectors, who could have no security for their property, whilst it was in the power of any bishop to take any part of his property he should think fit. Such an act of legislation must tend to breed feuds and animosities amongst the different ranks of the clergy, and eventually injure the church establishment and the cause of religion. For what good was the bill enacted? Who requested it? Cambridge university was hostile to it he knew. It was the child of the chancellor of the exchequer, who had published a pamphlet in its support. Oxford university and the clergy of London had expressed their disapprobation of the bill by petitions to parliament; and not one city or county had expressed a hope that it would be adopted. But the right hon. gent. derived his support from a set of men hostile to the church establishment—the members of the Foreign Bible Society, the Society for the Suppression of Vice, and those dealers in Missionaries who had nearly overturned the power of Britain by their late conduct in India. To these he was decidedly averse; but as the bill was almost identified with the present bishop of London, he had to apprise the house that he had given of late great cause of uneasiness to the true friends of the church, and in particular by a late gift of a benefice to a missionary of Bussora, who was a native of Poland, and whom it would even be necessary to qualify for his situation by a form of that house. This had placed the bill in rather a suspicious point of view; and from the arguments which he had urged, he found it his duty to oppose the house going into a committee.

Mr. Burton

contended that the present bill was no invasion of church property, and quoted several instances from our history, to shew that such changes often took place, from the time of Richard the 2d. The property of the church was, in fact, that of the people, and certain relative duties were expected to be by them performed to qualify them for their possession. In the eye of the law there was another party with respect to church properly, beside the impropriator and the curates; this was the people of the parish, who had an indisputable right to their services; and the present bill only made such a provision for the clergy as would enable them to perform with credit to the church those duties of benevolence and hospitality prescribed by a religion they professed.

Mr. Lushington

supported the bill. It was not enacted for the advantage of dissenters, and was framed to go as far as any legislative act could go at present for the advancement of the interests of the church. The proportion of salary to the curate was only increased in proportion to the value of the rector's income. This was a just principle. At Oxford he knew of no opposition to it, though he was there so late as last week. The great source of opposition to the bill had been the increase of influence to the bishops. This he always wished to counteract: but, in the present instance he saw no cause of alarm, nor were they parties to any alteration by the present bill. From a conviction that the present bill would be of great public advantage, he felt inclined to give it his whole support.

Mr. W. Smith,

not being a member of the established church, was afraid almost to say any thing on the subject, as it seemed to be connected with party and religious considerations, some of which might be conceived to involve himself; but, nevertheless, he felt himself called on to support the principle set forth by his hon. friend (Mr. Creevey), that there should be no remuneration without reference to labour. He objected strongly to the increase of the influence of the bishops, and wished that livings, both in the hands of lay impropriators as well as others, should be placed on a better foundation. He perfectly absolved the mis- sionaries in India from the crime imputed to them, and thought the evils there had originated in the misconduct of those higher in rank and station.

Lord Milton

opposed the passing of this bill into a law. The grand objection he had to it was, that it gave the most improper influence to the bishops, who were altogether dependent on the crown, and who would not fail to extend the interests of the crown, through the medium of the regular clergy, among the population of the island. This was an evil of the greatest magnitude. The objection made by his hon. friend, he thought related not to dissenters in name, but applied to such as outwardly professed the established church, but dissented from the true spirit of the 39 Articles, and were enemies in principle to the established church. The more residents, he believed, the less would be the number of sectaries; but from the peculiar frame of this bill, he should propose that the house should go into a committee on it, though he should vote against its passing into a law.

Sir Francis Burdett

thought the present an instance of legislative interference uncalled for. It suggested no remedy for the evil it pointed out. No one parish had preferred a complaint. It had been urged, that it was necessary to increase the salaries of residents, yet no proof had been exhibited of this necessity. The ground on which the bill stood was absolutely fanciful and whimsical; it went on a supposition of a necessity which, it appeared, did not exist. It seemed the right hon. mover had affixed the idea of respectability among the clergy to the sort of clothes they should wear, or the hospitality of their household. Poverty had hitherto been the badge and honour of our religion; but opinions had changed, and it was not now necessary alone that the clergy should be respectable, but they must also be rich. The catholic religion had one established principle in it, which had done much for its security and protection from encroachment. Though the higher orders of their clergy might be possessed of wealth, the regular and officiating clergy had all the influence over the lower order of the community, which a similarity of life and equality of income must ever give them under any system of religious government. It was not the wealthy compeer of the squire who would be found to possess the most influence. Increase of salary would fail to make them more respectable. He had yet move serious constitutional grounds of objection;— the system of undue influence given by this bill over so great a number of clerical freeholders and voters at elections. If it should be necessary to increase their salaries, art act should follow to disable them from voting, as had been done with respect to others, in less danger of being influenced. The true cause of the grievance now existing was, the neglect of the bishops in permitting persons to take holy orders who were not proper for the situation. These were then left without either livings or income, and the evils now complained of were the consequence. After such an abuse of their power, was it right to give them more? Had they known the state of the clerical establishment, and the number of their clergy, they could not have fallen into the error, and thus have contributed to the disgrace of the clerical function. Perhaps it would be said, the proper place for a bishop was in the house of lords, or at court. Little could be said of such objector's respect or zeal for the cause of religion. The bill looked one way and proceeded another; it pointed out an evil and offered no remedy. If a change should ever take place, it should not be of this description. It went to overturn the whole system of clerical property, a consideration which should have its due weight on the house; especially as it might happen that they themselves might shortly become the sufferers by similar encroachments on the property of lay impropriators. It was, therefore, the duty of the gentlemen of England to shew their disapprobation of such a dangerous innovation on this defenceless portion of the community.

Mr. Manners Sutton

expressed his surprise at the statement of the hon. baronet respecting the neglect of bishops in admitting improper persons into the church. There was no point in which so much improvement had taken place respecting the church, even within the last 20 years, as in the arrangements made for the examination of persons, candidates for holy orders, in order to secure the admission of none but proper persons.

Mr. Wilberforce

said, that it was admitted that the object of the bill was to provide for the poorest order of the clergy. This he thought a great object, and it was adequate for this object. In the great contest in which the noble lord opposite (lord Milton) and he were lately engaged, he had seen nothing on the part of the clergy but consistency and independence. The bishops, he was satisfied, would be better pleased that no option should be left with them, but that they should be imperatively called on, in every case, to give the one-fifth. This, however, would in many cases be inconvenient, if not unjust. On the whole, he thought the measure as it stood, highly cunducive to the advantage of the church of England. Many gentlemen were zealous in their efforts to place the catholic religion on a respectable footing. He hoped they would not entirely slight that which they themselves professed; but would evince that the well-being of the church of England was not indifferent to them. Long experience, and a careful attention to the doctrines which it inculcated, had taught him to regard that church with the highest admiration, as embracing the purest system of religion, and that most consistent with the Christian faith. The present measure had his entire support, as one greatly calculated to give strength and stability to the church of England.

Mr. Windham

regarded the bill now under consideration in a very different light from the hon. gent. who spoke last. He conceived it to be a measure calculated to undermine and weaken, rather than to strengthen that church which the hon. gent. professed so much to admire. It seemed to him to be a bill calculated to sow dissention and discontent, rather than seed likely to produce good fruit. It appeared calculated to set the curate against the rector, and the rector against the curate. It was a bill to endanger, not to benefit the church of England. He was far from denying that the legislature might not interfere to regulate church property as well as any other. Nobody could deny that proposition; but still it remained a question, was such interference necessary? Nobody could deny that the king held the reins of government for the benefit of his subjects. But still the talking of cashiering kings was a doctrine not to be lightly introduced, or to be acted on but in cases of the most crying necessity. In the same manner, though the legislature might have a controul over the property of the church, it was a controul to be seldom exercised, nor even to be often talked of; it being a fact that the solidity of the tenure, by which the property was held, was diminished even by the frequency of the dis- cussion as to the right to hold it inviolate. He could not, therefore, deny the argument of gentlemen on the other side, as to the letter, but he protested against it as to the spirit. If the church itself did not see this bill to be dangerous, it was more behind its interests than usual. If it did not see in this measure a speck which would in time burst forth into a cloud, it was more insensible to its situation than he had supposed. The church of England, he was satisfied, had more to fear from this measure than from the pope and a full conclave of bishops, even in the zenith of their power, and before his holiness was reduced to his present abject state. He could not help, however, admiring that far-sighted talent by which the hon. gent. (Mr. Wilberforce) was enabled to smell out the dangers of popery at 500 miles distance, while he continued utterly insensible to all the dangers of fanaticism assailing the church of England, even under his very nose. The gentlemen on the other side, however, appealed to the charity of the house, and asked if the curates, who did the business, ought not to be paid? To this he had no objection, but yet he contended they should not be paid out of other persons' pockets. But, said the hon. gent. again, this is only on account of the non-residence of the proper incumbent. This, however, was taking it as granted, that non-residents were delinquents, a doctrine in which he could not agree; as it was perfectly possible that a person might be non-resident from bad health, or from many other justifiable causes. This, too, was to play fast and loose with the question. It was one moment to represent it as a mulct on the non-resident; the next, as a bill for the relief of the curate. Instead of legislative proceedings, if the right hon. the chancellor of the exchequer would exert himself zealously, earnestly, and sincerely, to see that none but proper persons, in point of character and learning, were admitted into the church, he would do more to effect the object in view than a thousand bills like the present could ever accomplish.

Mr. M. A. Taylor

contended that evil existed, and that remedy was called for. There was not a sufficiency of resident clergy to do the duties of the church. The income of the curates did not keep pace with those of the rector, nor with the circumstances of the times. Hence, one curate was often obliged to serve two or three parishes; and thus baptisms and burials stood over till certain fixed days. Church property was given on the condition of performing the duties of the church, and the country had a right to provide for the performance of those duties out of that property.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

could not see that the present bill ought to be objected to because it did not go entirely to remedy the evils under which the poorer clergy laboured. It was no reason that the house should refuse to do that quantum of good which was in its power, because a still further degree remained, which it could not reach. Instead of endangering, he conceived that by the present measure he was strengthening and securing the foundations on which the church of England rested. The right hon. gent. alluded to a charge made against a right reverend prelate, as it he had improperly presented a foreigner to a vacancy in his gift. He vindicated in strong terms the conduct of that right rev. prelate. He did not pretend to know to what case the allusion had reference, but if it applied to the appointment of a learned person who had been; professor at Smyrna, he could say that it was an appointment highly meritorious; being to a gentleman of whom, except from his character for eastern learning, the right rev. prelate had no knowledge; and was to be considered as a retaining fee to enable the person in question to prosecute the enquiries into the Scriptures, which he had commenced. The right hon. member concluded by moving for leave to withdraw his first motion, that he might move that it be an instruction to the committee to make provision for extending the bill to Ireland.

Sir J. Newport

declared himself the last man in the house' to oppose a well-regulated reform with respect to the establishment of curates. As far as the bill went to propose a remedy for that great grievance, he gave it his support. He must, however, say, that it did not meet the existing evil in Ireland, nor was it calculated generally to answer the ends for which it was intended.—The question being again put, that the Speaker do leave the chair,

Lord Porchester

conceived that there was no call for the bill. This was a case of reform; and he asked if there ever was a question of reform agreed to, without a case being made out? Whenever the worthy baronet near him (sir F. Burdett),called on the house to reform abuses of which he complained, what was the language of the very persons who now pressed the present measure? That he must make out his case. This he now called on those gentlemen to do, which not having done, he must esteem the present to be a measure altogether uncalled for, unnecessary, and improper.

Mr. Tyrrwhit Jones

strongly supported the measure, and expressed a hope that the noble lord would not continue to refuse his assent to the proposition that the bill should then go into a committee.

Sir C. Price

expressed sonic doubt that the bill, as it then stood, would have a tendency to sow schism between the curates and the incumbents; but at the same time declared, that he hoped that by its being passed through a committee, it would receive such modification as would be the means of attaining the general object; namely, that of bettering the condition of the inferior clergy throughout the empire.

A division then took place. The numbers were, for going into a committee 131; against it 17. Majority 114. The house then went into a committee, in which lord Milton objected to the proposition of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for extending the operation of the bill to Ireland. Lord H. Petty, Mr. Windham, and sir J. Newport, followed on the same side. The Chancellor of the Exchequer defended his proposition, and was supported by sir A. Wellesley, lord Castlereagh, Mr.Huskisson, &c. Upon the division the numbers were, Ayes 55; Noes 18. Majority 37.—The committee then went through several clauses, the house resumed, the chairman reported progress, and asked leave to sit again, which was agreed to.