HC Deb 16 February 1824 vol 10 cc183-7
Mr. Goulburn

rose to move for leave to bring in a bill to compel, as far as was possible, the residence of the clergy of Ireland upon their benefices. He did not think it necessary upon this occasion to detain the House very long by explaining the particulars of the measure which he proposed. No one would deny that the residence of the clergy was, in all countries, beneficial to the inhabitants; but it was obvious, that the practice was still more necessary in Ireland, because the greater the difficulties under which that country laboured, the more requisite was it that a vigilant attention should be paid to the wants of its inhabitants. There was another point of view in which the residence of the Irish clergy seemed no less important; not only were they called upon to perform the offices of religion, but, in consequence of the absence of the gentry, they were required to minister to other than the spiritual wants of the people. The object of the bill which he proposed to introduce was, to effect this. In some cases he was aware that the residence must be dispensed with. These were either when the incumbents were compelled to reside on other parts of their benefices, or where the infirmities of nature caused their absence. He proposed to limit these cases to such as were strictly unavoidable; and to take care that an adequate provision should always be made for the administration of the incumbent's duties. By an adequate provision, he not only meant that persons should be employed, who should be duly qualified, by their moral character and acquirements, to be ministers of religion, but that their stipends should be suitable to the duties they would be expected to perform. He would shortly state, that the form of the bill would be in most respects similar to the existing law on the same subject in England. It would con- siderably narrow the grounds upon which a plea of exemption could be allowed, and provide that the stipends of the curates should be proportioned to the value of the benefices, and to the extent of the population under their care. The House would probably excuse him, from stating seriatim, the several provisions of the bill, and he thought he should best consult its convenience, by moving for leave to bring in a bill "to amend the laws for enforcing the residence of Spiritual persons on their Benefices."

Sir J. Newport

expressed his readiness to concur in any measure which should be calculated to carry into effect the object of the right hon. gentleman, and he thought the best means of accomplishing that object would be by preventing the beneficed clergy from holding pluralities. There were instances in which clergymen, already holding five, or six, and even ten benefices, had obtained faculties by which they were permitted to unite to those benefices, three or four more parishes. By a reference to the episcopal returns, it would be found that lord Clifford, in the deanery of Armagh, held four parishes, in which duty was performed, and that he was in possession of 388 acres of glebe; he held also four other parishes, and in right of them 297 acres of glebe; but, in these latter parishes, no duty was performed. There was also another living in another diocess, consisting of five parishes, in none of which there was a glebe house, although there were 240 acres of glebe land. In the diocess of Clogher there was enjoyed in right of a living, 1,300 acres of glebe land, though there was no glebe house; and in that of Meath, five vicarages, containing 2,600 acres were in the same situation. The only way, he thought, of procuring the residence of the clergy would be by doing away with these monstrous pluralities, as he would call them, The law, as it stood upon the Irish Statute-book, prevented the bishops who were inclined to do so, from dissolving these unions. The bishop of Cloyne had publicly expressed his regret, that he was prevented from doing so by the act of the 21st of Geo. 2nd, which forbad such dissolutions, that the value of ecclesiastical dignities might not be diminished.

Mr. Hume

expressed a hope, that in the event of the bill in question being passed into a law, care would be taken to insert a clause depriving the bishops of the power of granting faculties. By such a regulation, the right hon. secretary might do some good; but, so long as they went on in the present course, all they could do was to keep patching and piecing a system which must eventually crumble and fall to pieces. He felt satisfied that nothing effectual could be done, until they new-modelled the whole church system in Ireland: until they reduced the sums paid to the clergy at least by one-fourth, nothing effectual could be done. Let them look to the history of this country, and they would find what had been done. More acts of parliament had been passed in this country, for the purpose of regulating the clergy, than had been passed with reference to any other public body of men. He used the words "public body," because he considered the clergy to be public servants. He repeated, that many acts of parliament had been passed, and much trouble had been taken, in order to make them do their duty, but without effect. In Ireland it was useless to introduce new regulations, unless they took some such steps as had been already pointed out.

Mr. Dawson

said, he felt bound to object to any interference with church property in Ireland. That property ought to be held as sacred, as the church property of England, and was entitled to equal protection. If once they meddled with the one, inroads would soon be made upon the other also. He wished also to protest against insinuations which had been thrown out, that the Irish clergy did not do their duty. If gentlemen looked about them, they would find that the Irish clergy did their duty in a most exemplary manner. They were assailed on all sides, but still they persevered in one undeviating, straight-forward course. Let any man look to the Irish clergy, either as ministers of the gospel, as magistrates, or as citizens, and, in each capacity, he would have reason to praise their moral and upright conduct. It might so happen, that a parish was neglected, or that an union existed which ought to be dissolved; but the right hon. baronet must be aware, that in a great many instances the union of parishes had become indispensable; as it was found impossible to procure an attendance at the churches which would be established by a subdivision. This, however, was a matter which had not escaped the attention of the bishops of Ireland. They had found it necessary, in some in- stances, to dissolve unions; and, no doubt, they would continue their inquiries as far as they were found necessary. But he stated at once, and broadly, that it would be impossible to dissolve all those unions.

Colonel Trench

said, that the Bill about to be introduced was of vital importance to Ireland; its object being to ensure, the permanent residence of competent persons in the different parochial districts. He deprecated the alterations proposed by gentlemen on the other side—alterations which, if once introduced into the sister country, would soon extend themselves to England, and at once create a revolution in the whole Church property of both countries. He did not pretend to deny that there existed abuses which required amendment, but then these abuses must be approached, not rudely, but cautiously; the alterations called for, must be made by a delicate hand; they must be effected, not suddenly, but slowly, and with the utmost circumspection.

Mr. Butterworth

said, he had good reason to believe, that in Ireland many persons frequented Roman Catholic chapels, and ultimately became Roman Catholics, solely because they had no Protestant churches to go to. He had himself seen in Ireland the ruins of many churches, which had been allowed to go to decay, in consequence of this union of parishes. He hoped something would be done to remedy the evils caused by these unions, and by other parts of the existing system in Ireland.

Mr. Goulburn

said, he felt it necessary to object to the two points dwelt upon by the hon. Gentlemen opposite; namely the, reduction of pluralities, and the interference with the Church establishment of Ireland. The question with respect to the church livings in Ireland had been so ably supported and opposed elsewhere, that it was unnecessary to discuss it on that occasion. With respect to the other evil alluded to, he was happy to state that the subject had not escaped the primate of Ireland, who fully felt the inconvenience of pluralities in many instances; and he had laid down a rule, that where the union was dissoluble, the occupant was not allowed to hold any other. This was enough to shew that the state of Ireland was not what it was a hundred years ago; and he was sure both the right hon. baronet, and the hon. member for Montrose, would agree with him, that at no time had greater improvements been made in our Church establishment than within the above period. That improvements were required, he did not deny; but it would be idle, and worse than idle, for any man to expect that a state of things such as was desired could be brought about at once, and by a single act of parliament. They must proceed cautiously, and by degrees; otherwise they would do injury instead of good. He should, in a few days, have to lay before the House a measure instituted by an Irish bishop (though he believed the measure would originate in the other House), for the repeal of a union by act of parliament. This the reverend prelate did at his-own expence. [A laugh.] Gentlemen on the other side might laugh, but this was no uncommon circumstance. There was not an Irish prelate who would not adopt a similar course, under similar circumstances. The clergy of Ireland had the power to increase as well as to diminish unions: and, within a few years, they had dissolved many. It was in the power of the prelate, with the consent of the incumbent, to erect a chapelry, or separate curacy, in a union; and this had been done in several instances, the bishop making an allowance to the curate during the life of the incumbent. Whatever opinions might be entertained upon the general question, upon this at least all must agree, that it was necessary to take such measures as would secure a resident clergy, or else provide an efficient curacy with an adequate stipend. Leave was given to bring in the Bill.