HC Deb 25 April 1826 vol 15 cc562-6

Mr. Calcraft presented a petition from the Churchwardens and Inhabitants of St. Olave, stating that the differences respecting Tithes in that parish were as yet unadjusted; that an offer had been made by the parish, which had been rejected by the rector; that the whole parish contained only 175 houses; and that, chiefly owing to the differences which unhappily existed between the rector and the parishioners, the church was very thinly attended. The petition prayed, that the House would be pleased to take the premises into its consideration, and afford such relief to the petitioners as should be deemed fit.

Mr. Alderman Bridges

complained of the peculiar hardship of the parishioners of St. Olave, in having the question of tithes so long in agitation, while they had every wish for an amicable adjustment.

Mr. Ald. Wood

spoke of the enormous income enjoyed by the present rector—an income which was entirely too large in proportion to the size of the parish.

Mr. Hume

expressed his sincere regret to find that the affairs of this parish remained in their former unsettled state, and thought it a very great hardship that, with every wish for an amicable arrangement, the petitioners were again compelled to address the House. Differences on the subject of tithes were highly disreputable; and, if he were present, he would appeal to the Secretary of State to say whether it was expedient to suffer these parish broils, these scenes of tumult and disorder, to be thus continued, to the reproach of the church, and the interruption of harmony and social order. He had no hesitation in saying, that proceedings such as these were a reproach to the heads of the church, without whose sanction they could not be continued. In the present instance there was every likelihood of a satisfactory arrangement being completed between the parties; and, were it not for the bishop of London, an amicable settlement would have taken place between the rector and the parishioners. That prelate, however, thought fit to interpose; he would not consent to an adjustment, and the consequence was, that none could be effected. Such conduct on the part of a bishop, whose duty it was to be a peacemaker, merited the severest reproach. In this instance he had laid aside his sacred calling, and was rather a fire-brand than a peace-maker—a promoter of discord, than a minister of the Gospel [murmurs]. He thought it most unjust that one parish should be taxed at such a high rate, whilst others of greater size were less heavily burthened. His hon. friend, one of the members for London, had a bill, from which it would be well if the rector of St. Olave would copy, and endeavour to adopt the same liberal spirit which actuated the party concerned in that measure.

Mr. Wynn

said, that, without offering any remark on the present petition, he could not resist the inclination which he felt to protest against the unjustifiable attack of the hon. member for Montrose on the conduct of the right rev. prelate, whose name had been introduced on the present occasion. The hon. member asked, why had that right rev. prelate interfered in an arrangement between the rector and the parishioners? In doing so, the bishop of London had only consulted the interest of the church of which he was one of the heads, to prevent an arrangement, the benefits of which should not be extended to the incumbent who might succeed the present. The bishop of London had not appointed the present rector, and therefore he could not have acted from any partial feeling in pursuing the course which he had taken. The hon. gentleman asked, why should this parish pay more than others? If the hon. member knew any thing of the state of England, he must know that parties in one parish might consent to an arrangement by which they might be taxed more or less than the inhabitants of an adjoining parish; and this arrangement might take place without any regard to the relative extent of those parishes. There were numerous parishes situated like that from which this petition had been forwarded; and he could not see that the present petitioners had any more right to expect relief than the inhabitants of other parishes. The petitioners had made out no case to entitle them to the peculiar consideration of the House.

Mr. Denman

said, that the right hon. gentleman seemed to have misconceived the observations which had fallen from the hon. member for Montrose. His hon. friend had said, that the present rector received upwards of 1,800l. per annum, and that the parishioners were willing to give 1,200l. a-year to future incumbents, and that, but for the interference of the bishop of London, this proposition would have been accepted. His hon. friend had said also, that this parish was rated too high for its size; and the right hon. gentleman denied that statement. Now, what were the facts? In the adjoining parishes of Bishopsgate and St. Andrew, Holborn, each of which were beyond comparison more extensive than that from which the present petition had been sent, the commutation for tithes was by no means so unreasonably exacted. Surely, then, his hon. friend had some right to complain that the tithes exacted by the present rector were not in proportion to the size of the parish. With regard to the defence set up in support of the claim of the rector, it should be observed, that, until within these few years, the tithes of this parish were on a moderate scale, and payments of this description hardly known.

Mr. Wynn

said, he had no intention to enter into the merits of the question between the parties in this case. His only object in rising was to protest against the term "fire-brand," which the hon. member for Montrose had thought proper to apply to the bishop of London.

Mr. Calcraft

begged leave to say, that so far from any blame being attached to the bishop of London, he thought he had done as much to reconcile the parties as he possibly could, considering the station which he filled. The chief difficulty the bishop had to contend with was, to make a suitable provision for the future incumbents of the parish. He was the natural protector of the church, and was bound to see that its interests were duly guarded. It was his duty to protect the charge which had been confided to his care, in the same way that trustees were bound to watch over the property committed to their management. The state of the parish of St. Olave was certainly such as to call for the interference of the House.

Mr. Secretary Peel

expressed his regret that he was not in the House when the hon. member for Montrose had made use of such unwarrantable observations with regard to the venerable prelate whose name had been used in the present discussion. The member who could so far commit himself as to deal forth his invectives in that unwarrantable manner against a prelate who was not more distinguished by the exalted station which he filled, than by his piety and learning, grossly abused the privilege he enjoyed as a member of that House. Was it, he would ask, to be tolerated—was it manly or decent—to apply the term "fire-brand" to the venerable and respected bishop of London. Had the hon. gentleman, who had thought fit to use that term, been in a more exalted station than that which he filled in the estimation of the House, a more serious notice should have been taken of such conduct. And, what was it that called for the hon. gentleman's remark? The bishop of London had shewn the utmost anxiety to produce an amicable arrangement; and he had no other feeling, no other interest to advance than that which a sense of his duty dictated. Was it fair or just, then, to brand him with such offensive terms? The bishop had acted according to the best of his judgment in adopting the course which he had taken; and he had, of course, acted with a due regard to the interests of the church over which he was called on to preside. Whatever obstacles the settlement of the tithes question in that parish had met with, he was satisfied that the bishop of London had acted according to the dictates of his reason and his conscience, and that those obstacles had not been started by him from any unworthy motive.

Mr. Hume

asked, in what situation a parish was placed where every body said that the differences which unfortunately existed would have been settled if it had not been for the interference of the bishop of London? Such was the prevailing feeling in the parish. The petition stated, that the sum levied for tithes in the parish was only 100l. short of the whole sum paid by the parish for the King's taxes. Now, was this fair, was it reasonable? With respect to the part which the bishop had acted in the business, he certainly did not think that he was free from censure; although he was willing to confess that the term which he had applied to that prelate was stronger than he could have wished. But knowing the divisions with which this parish had been disturbed, and the heart-burnings caused by the litigation of the question of tithes, he had given vent, rather unguardedly, to expressions which perhaps it were better he had not uttered. The bishop, however, ought not to be too hard on the parish. He ought to be satisfied with having raised the tithes from 250l. to nearly 2,000l. per annum; and he should have consented to the proposed arrangement, without offering any hindrance to the final adjustment of the dispute.