HC Deb 24 March 1819 vol 39 cc1143-53
Sir James Graham

rose, to bring forward his motion regarding the London clergy. He said, he should not move that the report of the committee which had decided on this important question should be then read, but should content himself with stating its substance, which was, that the petitioners had not proved the allegations which were made in their petition. He would, however, mention, that the petition which was thus unceremoniously condemned as unsupported by facts, was signed by the incumbents of 50 different parishes in the city of London, and prayed for such further increase of stipend as the House in its liberality might think proper to grant. In the reign of Henry 8th, the clergy of the metropolis were entitled to 2s. 9d. in the pound, or to 1s. 4½d. in every 10s. rent. This was taken from them by an act, which was well known in the city of London by the name of the Fire-act; and it was found in 1804, that instead of receiving 2s. 9d. they were not receiving 4d. or 5d. in the pound. The legislature in consequence relieved them by raising their stipends to 150l., 160l., 180l., and in some cases to 260l. a year This relief was, however, insufficient; and the clergy, finding that these sums were too small for their support in that rank of life in which it was their lot to move, were obliged to resort once more to parliament for relief. Out of 50 clergymen, who had signed the present petition, 30 performed their respective duties without curates; 16 of them were even without parsonage-houses; and, under these circumstances, they had come forward, not to claim 2s. 9d. in the pound or any thing like it, but merely such an increase of stipend as parliament in its liberality should say that they ought to have. Their petition referred to the act of the 37th Henry 8th, and to a decree (which had been enrolled in the court of Chancery by certain com-missioners appointed under it), enabling the clergy to receive the sums which he had previously mentioned. He had proved this fact by a reference to the statute-book; and therefore could not conceive in what manner the committee had come to a resolution, that the petitioners had not proved the allegations contained in their petition. An hen. gentleman had produced, in order to refute his opinion, not an act of parliament from the statute-book, but an act of common-council from his pocket. Every person who was at all acquainted with our law-books, must have seen many cases in the reports in which this decree, whose existence was denied, was mentioned and referred to. There had been more than a hundred determinations upon it; and he had found a recognition of it in the archives of the city of London. He should conclude with moving for leave to bring in a bill to amend an act passed in the 44th of his present majesty, intituled "An Act for the relief of certain incumbents of Livings in the city of London."

Mr. D. W. Harvey

said, that the committee had come to an almost unanimous conclusion, that the allegations in the petition of the London clergy had not been at all supported by the evidence which they had produced. In order to have a proper view of the question, it would be requisite to consider what had been the condition of the London clergy previous to the great fire of 1666. Now it was matter of record, that in the reign of Henry 8th, continual quarrels were carried on between the citizens and clergy of London, regarding their tithes, and other fees and emoluments. In order to put an end to the disorders which thus prevailed in the city, the act of the 37th Hen. 8th established a commission, with fall powers to give to their decisions the force of law, if they were enrolled in the High Court of Chancery before the let of March, 1545. The same act made their decisions a dead letter, if they were not enrolled in the manner pointed out. Now this enrolment had never taken place; consequently, the decree had never had force, and the petitioners had completely failed in establishing this, the strongest point, in their petition. The decree, as it now stood, was like an award, which every man in the House knew was not final, unless it was made before a given day, and unless before another given day it was made a rule of court. The hon. baronet had indeed produced the act of Henry 8th, and had produced the decree, as if it had been registered, which he could assure the House it never had been. Indeed, if the hon. baronet had consulted the excellent edition of the statutes at large, edited by Messrs. Tomlin and Raithby, he would have found that they had placed at the bottom of this decree a note of the following nature:—"This decree is not enrolled in the court of Chancery, nor in any roll belonging to any other court; neither is it annexed to the roll of the act in the parliament rolls; neither is it to be found in any of the old editions of the statutes themselves; it first appeared in Rastell's abridgment of the statutes, printed in 1555." That decree, then, had never been possessed of any validity, because it had not complied with the provisions of the act, out of which it emanated. The committee had been of this opinion in the proportion of 10 to 3, and had declared their opinion to the country by the resolution into which they had entered. They had been induced also to form such a resolution by the conduct of the clergy themselves. It was clear that they wanted to gain, by progressive acts of parliament, that object which, if declared at once, would disgust the House from the rapacious disposition which it would evince. It was clear that it was nothing less than one-sixth of the rack rental of the city of London which they wished to obtain; and it was because the committee had seen through their intentions, that they had come to the resolution of frustrating them. It might be said, that this was not treating the petitioners liberally: in his opinion they had no right to be liberally treated, inasmuch as they had foisted into their petition the act of Henry the 8th, with which they had nothing to do, except it were to exhibit the craving and rapacious spirit which actuated them. Their claims had been ably weighed and justly settled after the fire of London: he alluded to the statute of the 22nd of Charles 2nd; and he would make bold to say, that in all the actions which, had been instituted, from 1666 to 1804, between any clergyman of London and his parishioners, there never had been an instance where the parties quarrelled upon the equity of that statute. The hon. baronet had endeavoured to excite the compassion of the House for these five and thirty poor clergymen; but would the House believe that they were none of them, on an average, receiving less than 500l. a year? Twenty-five out of 35 were pluralists, and not a few of them the fattest pluralists of that reverend profession. Yet it was said, that the stipends they obtained from the city were so small, that it was not worth their while to reside; and certain it was, that it much better answered their purpose to reside any where else. These poor clergymen were, perhaps, the best calculators in the metropolis; their care for the souls of the parishioners did not at all interfere with quite as great a care for themselves; and accordingly, instead of occupying the houses belonging to their livings, they found it answer their purposes much better to let them out as counting houses and warehouses, to merchants and manufacturers, who could afford to pay them exorbitant rents. Not a few of the incumbents received annually, 1,200l. 1,500l. and even 2,000l.; and yet, what did they pay their curates? Not more than 60l., 70l., or 80l. a year: and some, in an excess of liberality were charitable enough to throw in the surplice fees, amounting to the enormous sum of perhaps 7l. or 8l. per annum. For these reverend gentlemen, therefore, to come to parliament with the mockery of distress, was neither consistent with truth, nor with the sacred character which they were so well paid to sustain. Under all the circumstances, he hoped the House would think that the committee had come to a correct decision, and that there was no pretence for the motion of the hon. baronet.

Mr. Dent

put it to the chair, whether it was not only highly indecorous, but against rule, for any member to come forward with a bill after a committee had reported so decisively against it.

The Speaker

did not apprehend that the course pursued by the hon. baronet was irregular. He suggested that the subject, if it was thought expedient, might be referred back to the committee.

Mr. Wrottesley

objected to the mode in which Mr. Harvey had argued the question. Such a speech might have been very proper after the bill was brought in, but was quite uncalled for in the present stage of the proceeding. He insisted that the subject ought to be fully and fairly discussed, after an opportunity of proving their case had been afforded to the petitioners, and that the committee had arrived at an unwarranted and unprecedented conclusion.

Sir. W. de Crespigny

spoke shortly in favour of the motion.

Mr. Alderman Wood

said, that no instance could be shown where the decree so winch talked of had been produced. In the city of London two persons had been employed for a month in making the most diligent search, and though they had discovered a decree of bishop Bonner, which was made for some temporary purpose, they had found no trace of the decree in question. No evidence of its existence had been produced before the committee of the House, but such as was supplied from a modern copy of the statutes. In fact, the common sense of the thing had warranted the conclusion at which the committee had arrived. The clergy made it an allegation in their petition, that they were entitled to 2s. 9d. in the pound, by a certain decree, and they had been called upon to prove that allegation: they had failed to do so by any competent evidence, and of course the committee could come but to one determination—that the allegation had not been established. The House was probably aware that all the clergy who would de entitled, if any were entitled, had not come forward: some had been prudent enough not to bring themselves and their emoluments before public; or perhaps some of them might feel how unreasonable it was at the present moment to visit the citizens of London with any fresh infliction. Looking, however, for a moment at those who did thrust themselves forward as claimants for increased stipends, it would be found that they were all well provided for both in the city and out of it. The clergyman of St. Peter's, Cornhill, received 632l. per annum, he was non-resident, and was also vicar of Tottenham: another was paid 481l., another 450l., another 386l., another 376l. and another 300l. per annum, besides emoluments derived from other benefices, and situations; for instance, the clergyman of Allhallows, had also the living of Stonesfield, and had a stall in a cathedral; another had preferment at Stoke-Newington, and a second at Shrewsbury, while several were minor canons of St. Paul's. Nevertheless, most of these reverend gentlemen employed curates at very low salaries, and because they would not pay enough for men of talent and information to discharge the duties of the pulpit, many of the congregations were put to the heavy expense of paying for evening lectures.

Sir W. Curtis

said, that the living of St. Peter, Cornhill, was worth only 300l. a year.

Mr. Gipps

hoped the House would allow the merits of the case to be discussed. The clergymen in question had a fair claim on the attention of the legislature, whose duty it was to maintain the character of the church.

Sir T. Baring

could assure the House, with respect to one of the parishes in question, that of St. Anne and St. Andrew's, Blackfriars, containing a population of above 6,000 souls, that the minister of that parish received only between 2 and 300l. a year. An hon. member had spoken of the rapacity of those gentlemen, and had declared that they let their houses for the purpose of profit. He was persuaded that there was not an individual who had signed the petition who would not be ashamed of doing such a thing. He must enter his protest against such random assertions.

Mr. Wynn

denied that the minister of Allhallows had the ecclesisatical preferment attributed to him by the worthy alderman. There were other clergymen besides those who had applied to the House by the petition in question, who had a plurality of livings; and he could see no reason for making that circumstance a part of the present consideration. With respect to the decree in question, its existence had, not been mooted, because it was never doubted. For two centuries it had been acquiesced in, which was quite sufficient to rebut the circumstance of the decree not having been found enrolled. The question was, whether or not the parties had placed themselves in such a situation as was consistent with the rules and orders of the House? He was himself inclined to say, that the report of the committee was sufficient to justify the bringing in of the bill. When the bill was before the House, that would be the time to enter into all the arguments on the main question, and to ascertain whether the benefits enjoyed by the petitioners were all to which they were entitled.

Mr. Alderman Waithman

said, that if the House had entered into a premature inquiry into the condition of the clergymen in question, it was indebted for the excursion to the hon. baronet. With respect to the situation of those clergymen, there were several things to be taken into consideration. A great difference existed both in the size of the parishes and in the stipends attached to them. The beneficial things annexed ought also to be taken into the account. As to the parish of St. Anne's, Blackfriars, it seemed to him very extraordinary that the minister of that parish should be found among the petitioners. That minister had but recently been presented with the living, by the parish; but no sooner was he seated in it, then he turned round and asked parliament to lay a tax upon his parishioners. As to St. Peter's, Cornhill, that living was in the disposal of the corporation of London; and he recollected having been warmly solicited, not long ago, for his interest; and now the minister of that parish, enjoying another living, came to the House and asked it to tax his parishioners [Question! Question!]. He was sorry to obtrude on the time of the House. He would be the last man, on his own account, to force himself on their notice; he would rather forego addressing them altogether. But he trusted he should never want sufficient confidence to stand up for his rights, not as an individual, but as one of the representatives of the British metropolis. Having been a member of the committee to whom the petition was referred, he knew that the question was neither more nor less than this:—The petitioners asserted, that before the fire in London in 1666, the incumbents of the parishes in question were entitled, under the act of the 37th Henry 8th, to a payment in lieu of tithes of 2s. 9d. in the pound. He thought that this allegation was not true. He was sure that it had not been proved. Whatever might have been the decision of the court of Chancery on the subject, * he had a right to say, that in his opinion that decision was erroneous. The petitioners having founded their claim on the existence of the decree, the committee had a right to ask, if that decree had been enrolled, when it appeared that it never had. To talk of the situation of these gentlemen was beside the question. They had different emoluments. If any of them were sufficiently provided for, let them come forward and make that statement. Here, however, was a set of gentlemen combining at the solicitation of one individual (with the exception of sixteen or seventeen honest men) in order to establish a common claim.—[Loud cries of Question! question! and, coughing]. It was a claim which had no foundation. The 2s. 9d. in the pound was not granted in lieu of tithes. At the time when it was granted, the clergy of London had several expensive duties to perform. They had to maintain the poor; they had to repair the churches. The statute of Charles 2nd contained no recognition of the decree on which the petitioners founded their present claim. So lately as in 1804, the petitioners had made an application to parliament, and had obtained a large increase of their emoluments, not founded on the decree in question. The grave reason assigned for the measure was the pressure of the property tax. That no longer existed; so that, in point of fact, the clergy of London were at present in a better condition than they were in at that period. He conceived that when a claim was brought forward the effect of which was to excite discord and ill-blood in the city of London, the committee were perfectly justified in availing themselves of the imperfect statement of the allegations in the petition, in order to make the report which they had submitted to the House.

Mr. Peel

said, that the committee above stairs was appointed in order to ascertain whether or not the standing orders had been complied with by the petitioners, and nothing more. To that the committee ought to have confined their report. What monstrous consequences might ensure if a committee above stairs, so appointed, were allowed to come to a decision which should preclude the House from forming any opinion on a subject submitted to them! Let the House consider how such a committee was constituted. It did not consist of a definite number of members. It was not a select committee appointed by the House. All the parties who chose to come to it had voices. The consequence, therefore, would be, that if such a precedent as the present were established, the parties adverse to the prayer of a petition would have nothing to do but to attend the committee, and to combine in the report to the House, that the allegations of the petition had not been proved; and on that the House was to be precluded from considering the case! The House must see, therefore, the importance of the point; they must see what would be the inevitable consequence of allowing a committee above stairs to exceed its powers, and to report an opinion on the merits of a case referred to them solely for the purpose of ascertaining whether or not the standing orders with reference to it had been complied with.

Mr. Wilberforce

considered a committee above stairs as of the nature of a grand jury, constituted for the purpose of enabling parties petitioning the House to bring forward their own proofs of their own allegations. He could not but say that there appeared to him to be some suspicion in the circumstance of the strong opposition, contrary to all usage, made to the present stage of the proceeding. It would be a most dangerous precedent to allow a committee above stairs to stifle a petition referred to them, without allowing the House any opportunity of examining its merits; and this the more especially, as the committees above stairs were certainly not one of the best parts of the system of the House of Commons. Nothing could be more contrary to justice and to the established usage of parliament, than for a committee constituted as the committee in question had been, to enter into the merits of a petition referred to them, merely to ascertain whether or not the standing orders respecting it had been complied with, and to report that the allegations of the petitioners had not been proved. He was astonished to hear the transactions and circumstances of private life gone into by more than one hon. member; for he was persuaded that was a kind of discussion in which the House would not indulge. All unnecessary inquisition into private affairs ought to be avoided. One of the greatest grievances of the property tax was its scrutinising and inquisitorial character. The House had been told, that the claims of the petitioners ought not to be granted because they were otherwise provided for. He was always desirous to see the clergy well provided for. Nothing could be more indecorous, more cruel, than to leave the clergy—men of expensive education—men employed in the religious instruction of a highly civilised and refined society—with means so narrow as to render them the objects of pity, by the members not of the other professions only, but of the other occupations of life; and then, if they endeavoured to amend their condition by obtaining other sources of income, to exclaim against them- as pluralists, not entitled to any such increase of emolument. It had been asked, whether it would not have been better had these gentlemen applied to their respective parishes instead of to the House of Commons? He thought not. He thought it would have been unworthy of them to have done so. It would have been to put their claims on the ground of individual favour, rather than of undoubted right. There were no persons for whom a reasonable provision, such as would enable them to meet their parishioners on equal terms, ought with more cheerfulness to be made than the clergy of the city of London. He confessed that he was disgusted to hear general declarations of attachment to the church from those who, when the subject came to be particularly considered, manifested a reluctance to the increase of a pittance, which would not be deemed a provision for a person in any other line of life whatever.

Mr. Plunkett

, as the committee had exceeded their authority by entering on an inquiry to which they were not competent, thought that the best mode of remedy would be to send the report back to be re-considered, and to be rendered more conformable to the orders of the House.

The Speaker

observed, that when he had stated to the House that it was not the practice to make such a motion as that proposed by the hon. baronet, on the report of the committee, he had accompanied that statement by another, namely, that he believed there was no instance of such a report having been presented. Consequently there could be no instance of any subsequent proceeding on such a report. In the formation of different committees, the House used different and set terms. When an opinion was required from a committee, that was expressly declared in the vote by which it was constituted. That the claims of a petitioner were good or not good—that the allega- tions contained in a petition were proved or not proved—those were opinions which a committee, constituted as the committee in question had been, were not authorised to report to the House. Such a committee was to be regulated by the two standing orders to which he had already referred. By the first they were required to see if the standing orders of the House had been complied with, and to report the matter of the petition to the House. By the second, they were precluded from hearing the adversaries to the petition. This last order rendered it obviously impossible that the House should call on such a committee, to inquire whether or not the allegations of a petition were proved, since they were precluded from hearing more than one side of the question. Such a committee was not only not bound to give an opinion—it was not capable of giving an opinion. It was merely the channel for communicating information to the House, with which information the House had afterwards to deal as it thought proper. There were three courses to be pursued with respect to the report, which would be consistent with the forms of the House. The first was, to ask leave at once to bring in a bill. A more ordinary course, where there had been an irregularity, was to recommit the report. The third course was to disagree with the report, to resolve that the allegations of the petition were proved, and then to ask leave to bring in a bill. The House would feel that it was of the utmost importance to ascertain the duties of committees, and not to expect that they would give opinions, when it was not referred to them to do so.

Mr. Wynn

thought that the best way of getting rid of the report was simply to disagree with it, and to give leave at once to bring in the bill.

The Speaker

submitted to the House, that to give leave to bring in a bill would be in itself to disagree with the report. Simply to disagree with the report, without a resolution that the allegations of the petition were proved, would be to raise a doubt whether or not the committee were empowered to give an opinion on the merits of the petition.

Leave was given to bring in the bill.