HC Deb 25 May 1824 vol 11 cc890-8
Sir John Newport

said, that the object of his motion, which respected the consideration of the First-Fruits Fund of Ireland, was to prevent a part of the legitimate revenue of the Irish church from sustaining further encroachments, after having been exposed to them through a long series of years. From the earliest periods of our history, the revenue called the First Fruits, had been paid by the clergy of the country; and this revenue was, by queen Anne, appropriated to the endowment and improvement of poor Irish benfices. These laudable and generous purposes would have been much better accomplished, had the system been rendered effective or the regulations then established been properly respected. It was to be remembered, that the deficiency occasioned by the non-payment, or improper collection, of these first fruits, imposed upon the public a burthen of taxation to replace that deficient amount which they ought to have raised. The right hon. baronet proceeded to show the extreme inequality of the assessments and valuations on benefices, and to point out these as the principal reasons to be assigned for the deficiency he spoke of. At present, while the clergy in Ireland were paying as first fruits about 2,900l. a-year, the body of the people, in ten years, would be found to have paid, for purposes to which this first-fruits revenue would be applicable, 630,000l., or upon an average 63,000l. per annum. Before he read in detail the resolutions that he should offer to the House, he would read a few items that might furnish a comparative view of the relative inequality between the value of diocesses and their first fruits' payments in England and in Ireland. The primate of Ireland, who held the see of Armagh, paid for first-fruits 400l., while the primate of all England, the archbishop of Canterbury, with an income very little greater, paid 2,680l. The see of Clogher paid, first fruits, 350l., while the see of London paid 900l. The see of Derry, produced an income of between 12,000l. and 14,000l. per annum, and paid 250l.; while the see of Winchester paid 2,800l. The bishopric of Cork and Ross paid for first fruits 50l., and that of his venerable and highly respected friend the bishop of Norwich, 834l. After urging the necessity of adopting such measures as might render the first-fruits' fund efficient for the objects to which it had been destined, the right hon. baronet concluded by moving,

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 the Head of the Church, and was regulated by the Irish Statute of the 28th Henry 8. and continued annexed to the Royal revenues until the year 1710.

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, test in trustees and commis- sioners 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, although a corresponding annual payment had been retained by the queen, and still remains payable by the clergy of England out of their dignities and benefices:—That it appears, from returns laid before this House, that the gross amount of the First-Fruit revenues of Ireland thus vested in trust, and paid into the commissioners during ten years, ending January 1821, amounted only to 3,752l., and that the net amount applicable to the purposes of the grant (after deduction of 827l. for salaries and incidental expenses) was only 2,925l.—That it appears from these returns that in seven years, ending 1824, the archbishoprics and bishoprics of Ireland contributed to the First-Fruit fund the sum of 910l. 10s. 11d. and that the archbishoprics and bishoprics of England contributed, during a like period, to a similar fund for First-Fruit charges, 5,419l. 9s. 10d. and for tenths 8,851l. 4s. 6d. making a total of 14,270l. 14s. 4d.—That the grants of parliament for gifts and loans towards building new churches and glebe Houses, and the purchase of glebes, in Ireland, during ten years, ending in 1821, amounted to 632,300l., being an annual average of 63,000l.; and that provision still continues to be made by annual grants for these salutary purposes from the public revenue of the united kingdom:—That 467 of the dignities and benefices of Ireland, being nearly one third part, have never been rated or valued for payment of the First Fruits; and that 336 more of these benefices, although rated, do not contribute to this fund, on account of the very early period, and the low rates on which this valuation was effected, and that the whole of the archbishoprics, bishoprics, and other ecclesiastical dignities, are therein estimated as of only 4,247l. annual value:—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 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:—That it appears, from documents laid before this House, that the proceedings of the commissioners under this patent to carry into effect a new and more adequate valuation of these dignities and benefices, by searching for the just and true value thereof, have ceased, in deference to high legal opinions maintaining the invalidity of the powers thereby conferred to effect this object, and the incompetency of the Crown to grant the same, which opinions have, however, been controverted by the legal adviser of the patentee:—That it appears just and equitable that this branch of the royal revenue, liberally appropriated by the Crown for wise and salutary purposes peculiarly connected with the maintenance of the church of Ireland (at the same time that a great remission of burthens affecting the clergy thereof was granted by the same royal authority), should be rendered actually efficient to the attainment of the beneficent objects to which it was assigned, and that the deficiency created by this inadequate valuation should be no longer supplied by the imposition of additional charge on the body of the people."

3. "That it be referred to a select committee, to consider whether any, and what legislative measures may be necessary to effect this most desirable and salutary object, and to report their opinion thereon to the House.

The question being put on the first re-solution,

Mr. Plunkett

said, he rose to oppose the motion, because it went to attack, not only the revenues, but the character of the church of Ireland. He felt quite sure that his right hon. friend, in setting about a reform of what he conceived to be abuses in the church of Ireland, was actuated by the purest motives: and he felt equally sure, that he should receive his serious attention, while he endeavoured to shew, that the present charge was unfounded. The right hon. baronet had, throughout the whole of his speech, assumed a certain fact, and then argued upon that fact, as if it had been proved, He had taken it for granted, that the statute of Henry 8th, and the act of queen Anne, meant to give to this fund the full annual value of every ecclesiastical benefice. If this were really the fact, and the clergy, instead of so applying it, used the money for their own purposes, they would deserve the most severe reprobation. Now, he begged the attention of the House, while he mentioned the true state of the case, with respect to the first fruits. They were originally claimed by the pope, before the Reformation, after which they were claimed by Henry 8th, as head of the church. The claims of that monarch were established in Ireland by two statutes, the 26th and 28th of Henry 8th, while in England there was but one statute upon the subject. It was material to attend to the nature of those two statutes. By the 28th of Henry 8th, it was required, that a valuation of the first fruits should be made; by the 26th, it was required, that a valuation of the benefices should be made. The two acts were finally applicable to totally different purposes. His right hon. friend would find, that the machinery of the two measures was totally different. One gave a power of inquiry to a committee, appointed by the chancellor, under the great seal, or to commissioners, who examined upon oath, and the result of whose inquiries was to be placed upon record in the court of Exchequer. There was, beside that, a valuation of first fruits to be made from time to time, by the lord chancellor, the master of the rolls, or the under treasurer of Ireland, or by commissioners appointed for the purpose. Thus there was an essential difference between the two measures. He might be wrong in delivering this opinion, but if he was wrong, he was so with the decisions of nearly 300 years in his favour; and, therefore, he hoped he should be excused if he delivered a legal opinion upon the subject with something like confidence. The question for the consideration of the House was, whether the act of Henry 8th meant to take the first fruits according to their then value, or whether the valuation once made, was to remain fixed and inviolable. He argued this question not as it regarded the church of Ireland only, but also as it was likely to affect the church of England. It was not the unprotected church of Ireland that was to bide the pelting of the pitiless storm. The church of England was equally in danger of being similarly attacked. The right hon. baronet had made some reference to one or two acts of parliament. He begged also to refer to a few. And first he would mention the 37 Henry 8, c. 20. That act provided for the union of several parishes into one benefice, and saved to the king the first fruits of such benefice, according to the rate at which they were then valued: so that the first fruits were by that act fixed and stationary. A similar provision was made by the 17th and 18th of Charles 1st. He wished next to call the attention of the House to an act passed in Ireland in the 10th Geo.1 ch. 7. That act stated, that in the event of any division of ecclesiastical benefices, the bishops were bound to ascertain the proportion of first fruits which such divided part had previously paid, and that it was to pay in an equal proportion in future. He felt that this was not a question of law, but one affecting the respectability of the church of Ireland. The complaint, in a word, was, that the Irish clergy did not give to public charities sums which the law did not require them to give, or else it was a charge against them of having embezzled sums belonging to those charities; in either of which cases he was entitled to the attention of the House. The right hon. and learned gentleman proceeded to quote the 2nd of Elizabeth, and several other acts, in support of his argument. The payment of first fruits in Ireland were made upon the same principle as those in England; though perhaps at a lower rate. He defied the right hon. baronet to show one case in which an Irish clergyman had paid less than the estimated value at which the first fruits of his ecclesiastical possessions were enrolled. This, then, being the case, the right hon. baronet had no right to turn round and cast imputations upon the clergy of the Irish church, because they did not contribute certain sums, according to his construction of a particular act. He (Mr. P.) thought he had done something, if he had shewn that the first fruits ought to have been, and had been paid according to the enrolled valuation. He now came to a part of the subject upon which he had made some observations on a former night, in answer to the hon. member for Aberdeen, whom he did not then perceive in his place; he meant the number of nonresident clergy of Ireland. That hon. member had estimated the number of nonresident clergy at 531. He (Mr. P.) had then stated, that even if the 500 were taken away, he should consider the remaining number an exaggeration of the fact: and, after the fullest inquiry, he had found no cause to alter that opinion. He had stated at the time, that the hon. member had mistaken unions for pluralities, and then had taken those pluralists as non-residents. But, taking the number of clergy employed in colleges and other places, and also the number of old and infirm men (who could not be called nonresidents in the proper acceptation of the word), it would be found that his (Mr. P's.) statement was correct. Comparing England and Ireland together in this respect, without meaning to say any thing invidious, the comparison was certainly in favour of the church belonging to the latter country. He would conclude by asserting, that there was not in the empire a more useful, a more exemplary, or more zealous set of individuals than the clergymen of the establishment in Ireland.

Mr. Spring Rice

contended, that few speeches ever delivered within the walls of parliament were more ad captandum than that to which the House had just listened. No imputation rested upon the clergy of Ireland; and the right hon. baronet, neither by his speech nor by his motion, had intended to cast any imputation. The charge was not against the clergy, but against the government, which did not carry into effect the spirit and the letter of the statute. It was easy, indeed, out of doors to produce an effect, and in the House to influence a division, by inducing a belief that it was intended to fix a stigma upon a particular body; but, as one of the supporters of the motion, he denied any such intention directly or indirectly. He was as sincere a friend to the church establishment of Ireland as the right hon. and learned gentleman; and he thought he best proved his attachment to it, by advocating that species of reform which would extend the duties of the clergy. The attorney-general for Ireland had dwelt much upon the legal construction of the statutes; but if the interpretation he put upon them were correct, what was to become of the 950 benefices in Ireland, which at present did not contribute at all to the first fruits? Were they to be valued according to the rate of the reign of Elizabeth, or were they not to be valued at all? Up to a very late period it was perfectly clear, that the clergy of Ireland did not contribute to the support of the parochial schools. Was this usage good or bad, or was it consistent with the solemn oath that was taken? He was not qualified to deny or to admit the truth of the legal argument of the right hon. gentleman; but if the whole of it were conceded, was it not still open to parliament to say, after due inquiry, that the whole system was defective, and that a better one ought to be devised and established? Much had been said on what was called the spoliation of the church; but that offensive word could not be justly applied to the motion before the House. It was one thing for the Crown to seize the property of the church and apply it to the purposes of the state, and another to apply the funds of the church to its maintenance, and to the advancement of religion and morality. The first might be termed spoliation; but the latter was rather to be looked upon as the preservation of the church property. For the sake of the peace of Ireland, it was absolutely necessary that the whole of this important subject should be thoroughly investigated. If the statement of the attorney-general for Ireland could be borne out by evidence, it afforded an additional ground for inquiry before a committee.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that whatever explanation might be attempted by the hon. gentleman of the motion of the right hon. baronet, it was impossible not to see, that if it were not intended to convey an imputation upon the church of Ireland, it was at least very ill calculated to avoid it. It was meant to be said by it, that there was a default on the part of the church of Ireland; and in this respect it was contrasted and compared with the church of England. In the one country the clergy were niggardly; in the other, liberal. The real question before the House was a pure point of law. If the church of Ireland paid at present what the law required, it was free from imputation. The right hon. baronet had compared the sum paid by a benefice in Ireland with the sum paid by a benefice in England; but it was no more fair to put these in juxtaposition for the sake of drawing an injurious distinction, than it was fair to contrast the different amount of taxes paid by an in dividual of the same class in England and Ireland. Whatever the law was, it was the duty of the House to abide by it; and upon that point, he was content to rely upon the opinion of his right hon. friend. According to that opinion, the clergy of Ireland ought to be free from any further demands. He protested warmly against what had fallen from the hon. gentleman, as to the difference between the churches of England and Ireland. There existed no such difference; nor ought the one to be differently treated from the other. The two churches were united in doctrine and by law; and if a distinction were allowed, it might hereafter be used against the church of England, and, perhaps, eventually occasion its overthrow. He quite agreed, that it should be the object of the House to enforce the execution of clerical duties by every means in its power; but he recommended the hon. gentleman to recollect, that if in former times there had been churchmen who had neglected their duties and misapplied their funds, the period had at length arrived when, by the confession of all acquainted with the state of the establishment, there existed on the part of the members of it, a most earnest anxiety to perform all the duties of their profession. The right hon. gentleman moved the previous question.

Mr. Hume

, in reference to what had been said by the right hon. and learned gentleman respecting the non-residents, as if he (Mr. H.) had made an erroneous report to the House, said he had only read the official returns made to the House by the bishops themselves. The supporters of the present motion denied that the clergy of Ireland had done what the law required. With regard to any supposed attack, he had never calumniated the ministers of the church of Ireland; he had objected merely to the existing system, and as it was bad, he was, of course, anxious for a change. The law might declare that the two churches should be the same; but, would any man of common observation and common sense affirm that there was no difference between them, in the manner in which the duty was performed, and a thousand other circumstances? The right hon. gentleman had concluded by saying, that the clergy of Ireland were never more zealous than at the present moment. "By their works shall ye know them." Had they added one proselyte to their flock? Had they not, on the contrary, year after year, so decreased in their numbers, that there was danger that they would, ere long, be reduced to nothing? Those who refused inquiry would, in the end, be found the worst enemies of the church.

The House divided: Ayes 71. Noes 87. Majority against the motion 16.