HC Deb 22 May 1828 vol 19 cc872-6
Mr. Secretary Peel

said, he had given notice of his intention to introduce two bills, bearing upon the practical domestic economy of the country. The first measure went to abolish what were called Church Briefs, for raising money in cases of calamities by fire, and for the raising of money for the building or repairing of churches or chapels. In the first place, he conceived that the existence of insurance offices dispensed with the necessity of making collections in this way, in cases of loss by fire; and, besides, to any one who attended the celebration of divine service, it must appear, to say the least of it, very indecorous to introduce into the middle of it a subject so totally unconnected with it. A return had been called for last session, to show the enormous expense attendant upon this mode of collection, and the disproportion between the loss sustained, and the amount of money collected. All that appeared on those returns combined to show the policy of abolishing- this system. He would therefore propose the total abolition of the system of raising money in cases of loss by fire by means of church briefs. He held in his hand an account of all the church briefs which had been issued since the 15th of May, 1819. He would select one or two instances to show the smallness of the sum paid to the party by whom the loss had been sustained, in consequence of the immense expense incurred, for the patent, for printing notices, and for the salaries paid to officers for distributing them, and collecting the subscriptions. Under the first brief which he should select, the loss sustained by the party amounted to 362l., and the amount of the sum raised was 549l. But the fact was, that a greater portion of that sum was expended in collecting the contributions of the charitable, than was paid over to the individuals who had suffered the loss by fire: 971. was the expense incurred for the patent, and the collection of the subscriptions cost 362l. So that the nett sum paid over to the party on whose account the subscription had been raised, amounted to 124l. out of 549l. There was no blame to be attached to the officer charged with the collection: he had to pay for the patent, for the printing of the papers, and for distributing them all over the country. It was plain that, if the contributors imagined that the party for whose relief they gave their money, would only receive 124l. out of 549l., they would not have given a shilling to the fund. In another instance in which the loss by fire amounted to 3,682l., in the raising of the contribution, no reference whatever was had to the amount of loss incurred. The contributors who had given a shilling in former instances contributed the same sum on that occasion. In truth, the whole was a lottery, in which the sum raised was usually alike, and had no reference to the amount of individual loss which had been sustained, and for the relief of which it was intended. With regard to the system of collecting money by briefs for the repairing or building of churches or chapels, the same objections did not equally apply to it, but the returns would show that the sum raised had no reference to the circumstances of the parish, or to the extent of the repairs required. It would appear from the returns, that the sum raised in all instances was between 340l. and 440l. He proposed to repeal the act of Anne, which authorized the collection of money in this way by church briefs, with a view to put down the system altogether. The contribution of money for the building of churches and chapels was founded upon an excellent principle; and he would propose to substitute another system, to compensate the church for the loss which it might sustain by the abolition of this mode of collection. If his majesty should be pleased to issue letters patent, authorizing the collection of voluntary contributions for the building of churches and chapels, he proposed to incorporate a society to receive the subscriptions thus collected, and the society he would incorporate for that purpose was one already in existence. He alluded to the society for the rebuilding and repairing of churches and chapels. He was happy at being afforded this opportunity of bearing his testimony to the merits of that excellent society. The whole amount of its funds consisted of the general contributions of individuals who were anxious for the maintenance of the pure doctrines of the church of England, and it had distributed 110,000l. for the purposes for which it had been founded. By means of the distribution of that sum in particular districts, it had excited the zeal and emulation of those who wished to support the church, and had induced the raising of local subscriptions for the maintenance of religion to the amount of 400,000l. The total sum, then, of voluntary subscriptions distributed by this society, amounted to 500,000l. By the application of 110,000l., free sittings had been provided for a hundred and fifty four thousand persons. Without devolving upon this society the power of imposing church rates upon any parish, he proposed to incorporate them, to enable them to receive voluntary contributions for the rebuilding and repairing of churches and chapels, to receive the sums left by bequests for that purpose, and the sums raised under the letters patent, authorizing voluntary contributions for such objects. He would propose that the bishops of the several dioceses should be vice-presidents of this society, and he would also propose that not less than twenty-five laymen should be appointed amongst its vice-presidents. To exemplify the admirable system of economy with which this excellent society had been conducted, he would mention that the sum of 500,000l. which I had been in their hands, had been appropriated, including all the expenses of rent, officers, collectors, &c, for a sum not exceeding 840l. per annum. The right hon. gentleman concluded by moving for leave to bring in a bill to abolish church briefs, and to provide for the better collection and application of voluntary contributions, for the purpose of repairing and rebuilding churches and chapels.

Sir J. Newport

wished to know whether the measure was to extend to Ireland. The principle of voluntary contribution for the building and repairing of churches would be extremely acceptable there, where a large majority of the inhabitants who dissented from the Established Church were taxed to an enormous amount for the support of that establishment. The right hon. baronet alluded to the returns which had been laid before the House of the appointments made under the Vestry act, in Ireland. In many instances, they were of the most oppressive nature; and he mentioned one case, in a parish in Dublin, where a close vestry, consisting of Protestants exclusively, applotted 2,300l. upon the parishioners, while at the open vestry only 220l. was laid upon the parish. From the constitution of the magistrates in Dublin, the right of appeal, under the Vestry act, was rendered nugatory.

Dr. Lushington

highly approved of the motion. The mode of raising- money by church briefs was inadequate, as the expense often exceeded the nett amount received. The country was much indebted to the right hon. gentleman for his proposition to incorporate a society, most excellent in its principle, and most beneficial in its effects.

Mr. Moore

defended the magistrates of Dublin from the sweeping charge that had been made against them by the right hon. baronet. So far as his experience, went, they were wholly unobnoxious to such a charge.

Alderman Wood

said, that briefs for the last fifty years had been farmed by contractors, and that was the reason why they produced only 300l., although they were rated at 1,000l. or 1,700l. What were called the walking briefs, produced a great deal more than the church briefs, because the churchwardens and the beadles, with their gold-laced hats and gold-headed canes, and all the paraphernalia of their office, actually went round and teased the inhabitants out of their money. The worthy alderman, after observing upon the objectionable nature of this tax upon the people, expressed his thanks to the right hon. gentleman for its abolition.

Mr. Secretary Peel

, in reply, said, that it was his intention to repeal the act of Anne altogether. He thought the worthy alderman must be misinformed as to the farming of the briefs; for any one guilty of that offence was liable to a penalty of 500l. The contribution to the society he proposed, was wholly voluntarily, and as the donation of twenty guineas made a member for life, he hoped the hon. alderman would become one, as his services would be found very useful on the committee. With respect to the observations of the right hon. baronet, he could only say, that he had so many measures to propose, connected with this country, that he really had not time to attend to Ireland. He, however, had not the least objection to a similar bill being brought in for Ireland.

Leave was given to bring in the bill.