HC Deb 10 April 1823 vol 8 cc802-8
Sir John Newport

rose, in pursuance of notice, to bring forward his motion for levying in a more effectual manner, the First Fruits of the Clergy of Ireland. The right hon. baronet observed, that so long ago as 1808, he had brought this subject before the attention of the House, and the importance of it was every day becoming more manifest. It was well known, that the revenue arising from the first fruits of benefices in Ireland, was in the hands of trustees for the purchasing of glebes, and the building of glebe-houses for the clergy of Ireland; but that the revenue arising from this source was so small, that large sums were annually voted to supply its deficiencies. It would be necessary for him to give a short history of the origin of this fund, and of the muse of its present inadequate amount. The Annates, or first fruits, were, the whole first year's income of each ecclesiastical benefice, and, before the Reformation, were payable in Ireland, as in other countries, to the pope. By statutes of Henry 8th, when the papal rights in Ireland were extinguished, this revenue, together with the twentieths or yearly twelve-pence in the pound, payable also to the pope from every benefice, was taken into the hands of the Crown, and remained annexed to the Crown till the year 1710. In that year queen Anne, on the advice of the duke of Ormond, or of the lord treasurer Oxford (for the supposed merit of this measure was claimed for both of them), remitted the twentieths to the clergy, and gave the first fruits to form a fund for the building of churches and glebe-houses, and the purchasing of glebes for the clergy of Ireland, and the augmentation of livings, where, from impropriations, they were too small to afford comfort to the incumbents having cure of souls. The management of this fund was given to commissioners, who were, for the most part, the higher dignitaries of the church, with power to levy the revenue, and to search out the just and true value of the benefices of which they were to levy the first year's income from each incumbent who came into possession. The valuation under which this revenue was levied at the time when it was given to this fund, was made in the time of Henry 8th and Elizabeth, and was not only, of course, very low, but did not embrace more than two thirds of the benefices of Ireland. It was, of course, the duty of the commissioners to have promoted the salutary objects of the fund, and to have remedied the inaccuracies and supplied the defects of this valuation. But this had never been done, and, up to this day, the first fruits were levied according to that defective valuation; so that this revenue, which should properly be a whole year's income of all the livings which became vacant in each year in Ireland, had only produced, in the average of the last ten years, 292l. a-year. The sums which had been granted by parliament to supply the deficiencies of this fund were by no means so trifling; for in the 11 years ending 1818, nearly half a million had been voted in aid of this fund. The sum was 498,000l. or an average of more than 45,000l. a-year. If the House adopted the proposition which he should submit to them, the necessity would be done away for any such demands on the pockets of the people. His intention was, to call on the commissioners to do what the law not only authorised but required. Why the commissioners did not make this valuation was sufficiently manifest. They were themselves the holders and expectants of large preferments, and a just valuation would be a tax upon translations. A fair valuation of the Irish benefices, making an exception in favour of livings under 150l. a-year, would produce, he calculated, from 30 to 40,000l. a-year. In consequence of the deficiency of this fund and the want of residences for the clergy, those large unions of parishes had taken place, which kept the Protestants of Ireland from the sight of a clergyman, and were a main cause of the decay of the Protestant religion. There was one of these unions of six rectories and six vicarages, of which a survey had been taken in 1731; it then contained 64 Protestants and 1,630 Catholics: in 1818 the Protestants had decreased to five, and the Catholics increased to 2,400. Could the House too soon interfere to render the funds available which might put an end to these unions? In the returns to the queries sent to the prelates of Ireland in 1807 and 1819, there was some curious information respecting these unions. They had it stated by the bishop of Ossory, that there was a union of 10 or 13 parishes; for as to three of the districts it was uncertain whether they were town lands or parishes. It was stated, as an objection to the severing of this union, that it was charged with a debt of up wards of 2,000l. advanced by the commissioners for building a glebe-house, which would be beyond the means of a separate parish to maintain; so that the very bounty of parliament was made the cause of perpetuating the unions, which it was so much for the interest of the Protestant establishment in Ireland to dissever. Respecting this union, he had a letter from a respectable gentleman, who said "We are here 17 miles distant from our parish church, and Mr.—lives in another part of the parish, just as far distant in another direction." The union was in fact 36 miles long from end to end; yet, on such a union as this, a glebe-house had been built, so as to be made an argument against dissevering it into benefices of reasonable extent. As it was the practice to attribute hostility to the church to those who made any remarks on the manner in which the revenues of the clergy were distributed, he should beg to quote the opinion of a person who could not be suspected of any such hostility—the earl of Dartmouth, secretary of state and lord privy seal, in the last years of queen Anne; from an edition of Burnet's History, with notes, by this earl of Dartmouth and others, lately published from the Clarendon press, "We hear" (said the earl) "much of the poverty of one part of the church, but we hear nothing of the great riches of the other. I know of no christian church that has a better provision for its clergy. If the revenues of the deans and chapters, which are of no more use to our church than those of abbots and monks, were divided among the poorer clergy, no other evil would arise than that the daughters of the bishops would be married with more difficulty, and would be portioned with smaller stipends. If the bishopricks, too, were brought nearer to a level in income, we should hear less of the scandal of commendams and translations. No doubt the legislature, in time, will see the necessity of putting the church, as to these particulars, upon a footing of more regularity."—The right hon. baronet concluded by moving the following resolutions:

  1. 1. "That the first fruits or annates, being the first year's income of every ecclesiastical dignity and benefice in Ireland, became at the Reformation, a part of the revenue of the Crown, as head of the church, and was regulated by the Irish statute of the 28th Henry 8th and continued annexed to the royal revenues until the year 1710.
  2. 2. "That her majesty queen Anne did then, as an act of grace and favour to the established church of Ireland, by letters patent confirmed by the authority of Parliament, vest in certain trustees and commissioners the produce of this branch of royal revenue, for the purposes of building and repairing Churches, for the purchase of glebes where wanting, and of impropriations wherever the benefice was not sufficient for the liberal maintenance of the clergy having cure of souls; and did at the same time absolutely release them from the payment of the twentieth parts, or twelve-pence in the pound, before paid annually to the Crown out of the income of all ecclesiastical benefices.
  3. 3. "That it appears, from returns laid before this House, that the gross amount of the first-fruit revenues thus vested in trust, and paid in to the commissioners, during ten years, ending in January 1821, amounted only to 3,752l.; and that the nett amount applicable to the purposes of the grant, after deduction of 827l. for salaries and incidental expenses, was only 2,925l., averaging annually 292l.
  4. 4. "That the grants of Parliament for building new Churches and Glebe-houses, and the purchase of Glebes, in Ireland, during eleven years, ending in 1818, amounted to 498,000l., being an annual average of 45,000l., and that provision still continues to be made, by annual grants, for these salutary purposes, from the public revenues.
  5. 5. "That 467 of the dignities and be- 806 nefices of Ireland, being nearly one third part of the whole, have never been rated or valued to the payment of the first fruits, as directed by the statute of Henry 8th; and that 336 benefices more, although rated, do not contribute thereto, on account of the very early period, and the low rates on which the valuation was effected: and that the whole of the arch-bishopricks, bishopricks, and other ecclesiastical dignities, are therein estimated as amounting to only 4,247l. yearly value.
  6. 6. "That the receipt and management of this revenue have been always reserved to, and continued in, officers appointed by the Crown; and that the duties thereof were, by letters patent, in the year 1812, entrusted to commissioners, with power, as therein specified, from time to time, to collect, levy, and receive, and to examine and search for the just and true value of all and singular the dignities and benefices of Ireland; but that no valuation appears to have been made under authority of this patent.
  7. 7. "That these resolutions be laid before his majesty, together with the humble representation of the House, that it appears just and equitable that this branch of royal revenue, liberally bestowed on the Church of Ireland for wise and salutary purposes, should be rendered efficacious for the attainment of the objects of royal bounty, without the necessity of annually increasing the public burthens by parliamentry grants; and that this House does therefore humbly pray, that his majesty may be pleased to authorize and direct the patentees of the Crown to proceed forthwith in the execution of such measures as may be deemed necessary to effect a just and true valuation of the several dignities and benefices of Ireland, and for rendering all such as shall be found to exceed the annual value of 150l. rateably contributory to the first-fruit fund, as vacancies in such dignities and benefices may hereafter take place, by regular instalments, during four years after the appointment thereto shall be made:"

Mr. Goulburn

said, he should not oppose any measure which could put the Church of Ireland on a better footing; but the question now really before the House was, whether they should levy a tax to the amount of 30 or 40,000l. a year on the clergy of Ireland for a purpose in which every lay member of the establishment had as strong an interest as the clergy. He should contend, too, that from no fair construction of the first-fruits acts could it be inferred, that it was intended that the whole of a year's income of benefices should be levied as first fruits. He could not trace the origin of the annates up to any particular period; though they must have existed very early. The pope, however, who claimed the first fruits, had never exacted more than the half of them; and on various occasions, parliament had even resisted this claim, and had laid down the rule which was at present acted on. In the reigns of Edward 3rd, of Richard 1st, and several other sovereigns, parliament had complained of the demands of the pope, and declared them illegal and destitute of authority. In the reign of Henry 8th; a statute was enacted, laying down the very principles which he (Mr. G.) was now advocating. That statute empowered the king to compound for the annates, and when this composition was once accepted, it was to remain for ever the same and inviolable. The 23rd of Henry 8th empowered the king to levy a payment for that time, which was to remain uniform. He alluded, of course, to the Irish statutes; and the 28th of Henry 8th, to which the right hon. baronet had referred, gave no more to the king than the pope had before possessed: it was a mere transfer of his power, as head of the Church, to the Crown. If the right hon. baronet looked at the statute of the 3rd of Elizabeth, he would find that there were a number of livings exempted altogether from this charge; viz. all those rated above 6l. 13s. and this exemption was not conferred for any limited period, but for ever. The right hon. baronet could not have read with much attention the patent of queen Anne, when he said, that the first fruits were casual and uncertain. They were there stated to amount to between 4 and 500l. a year; and yet the right hon. baronet would have the House believe, that the patent of Anne contemplated a sum equal to what might at present be derivable from an actual valuation of the first fruits. From this and subsequent statutes, and from the whole tenor of the law, it was evident that first fruits were to be considered as fixed at that time, and were to remain unaltered. By the second of George 1st, confirming the patent of queen Anne, the same principles were recognized. The 10th of George 1st, alluding incidentally to the subject, confirmed this principle. According to all these statutes it was not possible to augment what was formerly fixed a the amount of the first fruits. Another statute, the 9th of George 2nd, required that payment should be the same as the original sum. When Henry 8th regulated the subject, he claimed no more; and queen Anne gave no more than this average estimated value. In all subsequent statutes the same low rates were recognised as were originally paid. From these observations he trusted the House would not think the conclusions of the right hon. baronet correct, nor be disposed to adopt the course recommended by him. It was a principle of all these laws, that when the valuation was once made it should remain unchanged. There was, in fact, no instance of a benefice having been subjected to a second valuation. The commission which had been appointed was not to re-value livings formerly valued; but it was in its operations confined to livings which never had been valued. In the reign of James 1st, when a settlement took place in Ulster, a great quantity of land in addition was given to the clergy; and the commission which was then appointed was confined to estimate the value of the land which had been conferred on the clergy by the royal bounty. It took no notice of the land before possessed by the clergy. Viewing the subject under this light, it was impossible for him to accede to the motion of the right hon. baronet. His arguments were all founded in one leading error, namely, that the first fruits were to be considered as one year's revenue of the living, whatever sum that might amount to. The whole tenor of the laws contradicted this view of the matter, and therefore he should move the previous question on all the resolutions.

Sir J. Newport

shortly replied, observing particularly upon the reluctance of the Church, not only to contribute their share to the support of the general burthens, but even to the maintenance of their own poorer clergy.

The previous question being put on the first resolution, the House divided: Ayes 39. Noes 49. Majority against the resolution 9.