HC Deb 14 April 1825 vol 12 cc1341-7
Sir J. Newport

rose to move for leave to bring in a bill "to limit the power of holding a plurality of benefices, and to repeal the statutes, granting to the archbishops and bishops the power of forming episcopal unions in Ireland." The only pretences held out for the reason of the case in regard to unions were, continuity, weight of debt, and inability to meet the expenses. What would the House say to a parish connected with another, under these powers of union, which were eighteen miles asunder? He wished to draw the consideration of the House to this question, because it was one which involved the well-being of the established church in Ireland. It was right that the body of the people in that country, who adhered to the established religion, should have the fair means of religious instruction. What he had to offer to the House on this subject would be deduced from the actual statement of the archbishops and bishops of Ireland themselves, contained in the papers laid before the government on the state of the church in Ireland. The primate of Ireland stated, that the union of parishes in that country might rank amongst the greatest defects of the system by which it was governed. The episcopal unions, it should be observed, ought to be distinguished from those made by the lord-lieutenant and the privy council. The former were not placed under the same restrictions as the latter. If the House would examine the statements on the subject, which were laid before parliament in 1811 and 1820, they would at once perceive the evils arising from this system. He had taken the trouble to inquire into the grounds on which these episcopal unions were formed, and had come to the conclusion, that there was not, in reality, a statute allowing archbishops and bishops to make them. There was an act of parliament of the reign of Charles 2nd, which gave a semblance of that species of power; but, in his opinion, the construction placed upon that statute was not correct. He had also examined into the power exercised on this point by the archbishops and bishops of England, and had discovered that, with the exception of the bishop of Norwich, no such authority was delegated to the prelates of this country. If such a power existed at all, it would be more likely to have been allowed in England than in Ireland; because, here it would be more directly controlled by the force of public opinion.—The right hon. baronet then proceeded to allude to the evidence which had been laid before parliament, relative to the episcopal unions, and narrated several cases where the parishes thus united extended over a very large tract of country; some of them being not less than eighteen miles distant from each other. It was impossible, where parishes were thus widely separated, that a clergyman could attend to the duties of both. In one union, three parishes were connected twenty-six miles long, and nine miles broad; in another union, the tract which it comprised was forty miles long. The conduct of the archbishops and bishops had heretofore been very generally at variance with that which they ought to pursue; for, though they made those unions, they must have seen the evils that arose from them. In Kilcooly, six parishes, several miles distant from each other, were united in 1809.—The right hon. baronet then adverted to cases of a similar description which had occurred in Roscommon and Sligo. In one instance, where, before a parish was united to another, there were 16,000 inhabitants, the number was increased by the union to 22,800. The curate of the parish of Boyle, in the diocese of Tuam, was called upon to do all the duties of that parish, after it had been united with another. One of those parishes was twenty-six miles long, the other eight miles in length. Government had, however, much to its credit, divided that union into three parishes. The emoluments derived from these unions were very great. He knew an instance where four parishes were thus united, the first of which produced 580l. a-year; the second, 280l.; the third, 100l; and the fourth, 720l.; making an annual revenue of upwards of 1,500l. a-year; and yet the duties were inefficiently performed. The incumbent of one of these unions, in the diocese of Kilmore, held 20,000 acres of land, besides 500 acres of glebe. The conduct of the present primate had gone a great way in reforming this abuse. He disapproved of the reasons for which they were first created; but, notwithstanding the meritorious conduct of the primate or of any other prelate, he thought the House itself ought to provide by law against the recurrence of this evil. He conceived that no faculty should be granted, allowing any individual to hold two livings, while one was sufficient for his maintenance. He believed the bishops were at present doing all they could to place the established church in Ireland on a proper foundation; but he thought the government ought to put it out of their power to grant faculties for the union of parishes. That power should be confined by law to the lord-lieutenant and privy council. He was aware that if this right of granting faculties were abrogated, Dr. Ratcliffe, the present judge of the Prerogative Court, would suffer a diminution of his income, which in part arose from fees, paid on issuing those faculties. But, for the sake of that learned judge, and for the respectability of the office itself, the situ- ation ought to be placed on a better footing. At present, the salary of the judge partly consisted of fees; and he thought it indecent that any person holding such an office should be partly paid by fees and partly by a fixed salary. If the reform which he recommended in the church, took place, Dr. Ratcliffe would lose between 500l. and 600l. a-year; and it was proper that parliament should provide for that loss. The present primate, greatly to his praise, had written a letter to that excellent judge, regretting that by certain arrangements which had been made, the doctor was likely to be deprived of his fees, and offering to make up the loss out of his own pocket. This, however, Dr. Ratcliffe refused. He thanked the right rev. prelate for his kindness; but expressed his determination to rely on the liberality of parliament. The salary of Dr. Ratcliffe ought, in his opinion, to be a fixed one, altogether independent of fees. It was certainly unbecoming a judge to be obliged, as Dr. Ratcliffe was, to practise as a barrister, which he was allowed to do. He did not, indeed, plead in open court, but he gave his legal opinions in private. He therefore called on the right hon. gentleman (Mr. Goulburn) to place the office held by Dr. Ratcliffe in the same situation as other judicial offices were. He again adverted to a variety of unions, which he thought ought, if possible, to be put an end to. Some, he knew, could not be dissolved but by the consent or on the death of the present incumbents; and there were others granted by way of dignity, which the bishops themselves could not dissolve. He saw no reason whatever for giving to the prelates of Ireland a power which the archbishops and bishops of England did not possess. He then alluded to the opinions of the bishops of Kilmore, Meath, and some others, who had declared that they thought this power ought to be revised; and concluded by moving for leave to bring in a bill "to limit the power of holding a plurality of Benefices, and to repeal the Statutes granting to the Archbishops and Bishops the power of forming Episcopal Unions in Ireland."

Mr. Goulburn

said, that he did not mean to oppose the motion of the right hon. baronet. Whoever had attended to what had fallen from him, whenever the church of Ireland had come under the consideration of the House, would do him the justice to say, that he had always shown a disposition, where abuses appeared to have crept in, to correct them. If cases of abuse were made out, he would not be backward in advising what course ought to be taken, for the purpose of checking them. At the present moment, he believed it was felt by the clergy themselves, that the church was in a progressive state of improvement; and he was sure that government would do all that could be done to accelerate that improvement. The only question between him and the right hon. baronet was, whether the right hon. baronet was proposing that which was best for producing improvement. He wished particularly to call the attention of the House to the evidence which had been referred to by the right hon. baronet. From this it appeared, that whatever was the conduct of the incumbents, very great efforts had been made by the bishops and by the government to improve the system. He admitted that formerly considerable abuses existed, and that many livings were given to unworthy individuals for private reasons; but the present primate was acting in a very contrary manner. He allowed no unions in his diocese. It was a great inconvenience that the same individual should be allowed to hold two livings, situated at extreme parts of the kingdom. But, the primate had put an end to this, by issuing a canon similar to that which existed in England, forbidding persons to hold livings situate at a greater distance from each other than was allowed in this country. By his arrangements the primate had curtailed the income of one of the most able and learned men at the Irish or any other bar; he meant Dr. Ratcliffe. That gentleman had consented to forego those emoluments which were incidental to his office, as judge of the Prerogative court. The whole of his emoluments amounted to about 2,000l. a year; and that part of them which consisted of fees, amounted perhaps to 600l. Those fees he had lost; and, though the primate -offered to make up the deficiency, Dr. Ratcliffe had declined the offer; and said that he acquiesced in the alteration, for the benefit of the church. He (Mr. Goulburn) concurred in the suggestion of the right hon. baronet, that the office held by Dr. Hatch fife should be put on the same footing as other judicial situations in Ireland; and he meant, next session, to introduce a bill for that purpose. He was at present waiting for the report of the commissioners appointed to inquire into ecclesiastical offices in Ireland; and that report would not, he believed, be completed before the end of the session, and until it was ready, he could not bring in the bill to which he had alluded. He was well pleased to find that no abuse cited by the right hon. baronet occurred later than sixteen years ago—a circumstance which showed the improved state of the Church.

Dr. Lushington

said, he was glad that the right hon. baronet had introduced this question, for it was right that some arrangement should be resorted to, for the purpose of curing the defects in the Irish church establishment, which had been pointed out. He agreed in the truth of the observation, that those who held high situations in the church had made many attempts to remove existing abuses. In addition to the instances already cited by the right hon. baronet, where improper unions had been made, he could speak of one in the diocese of Down and Connor, where five or six benefices had been united for many years, and there was no resident on any of them. At length, the circumstance came to the knowledge of the bishop, who appointed a clergyman to each of them, and gave to the individuals so appointed the tithes of the different parishes. In other cases, clergymen who held pluralities, were not deprived of them, but were compelled to reside for a certain time in their parishes. The proposed bill he conceived to be extremely necessary; because though some exemplary prelates did all they could to reform the church, yet their successors might fall into error. Looking at the evidence lately laid before the House of Commons, he found, in one instance, a tract of ninety-seven square miles described as having but one resident incumbent on it. Those who complained of the increase of Roman Catholics in Ireland ought not to allow so large a district as this to be without a proper number of resident clergymen. He would not, on this subject, trust to the conscience or disposition of any bishop. He hoped such a measure would. be brought in, as would effectually prevent the enjoyment of pluralities. Non-residence he considered as the great cause of the increase of dissenters in Ireland.

Mr. Trant

expressed himself in favour of the motion; and bore evidence to the disordered state of the church establishment in Ireland.

Mr. V. Fitzgerald

concurred in the mo- tion. He thought that there was sufficient evidence before the House to legislate on. He approved of the manner in which the right hon. baronet had brought on this motion; and was of opinion, that the holding of pluralities by faculties, was not so great a source of abuse as the episcopal unions. The bill ought rather to deal with those latter. The cases cited were sufficient to warrant the introduction of the bill. It was not too much to take away from the bishops the power of making unions without the consent of the lord-lieutenant and council of Ireland. He considered the question to be one of paramount importance; and concurred with the right hon. baronet, that nothing was more essential to the maintaining the integrity of the church of Ireland, than to see that its professors, who were so richly endowed, performed the duties of their stations. He had only further to observe, that the administration of the marquis of Wellesley had manifested the strongest disposition to carry into effect the declared sentiments of the legislature on this subject.

Mr. S. Rice

concurred in all that had been said in praise of the primate of Ireland. There was one act of his for which he was entitled to the admiration of the House and the gratitude of the country, if the fact was as he had reason to understand it was. That dignitary, in conjunction with the bishop of Limerick, had taken steps to prevent the admission of I any Orangemen into the church of Ire- land. The House would be astonished to hear that such a regulation was called for by the state of things in Ireland; but, however extraordinary they might think it, the interference of the primate of Ireland was in the highest degree worthy of his station and distinguished character.

The motion was agreed to.