HC Deb 27 April 1830 vol 24 cc70-83
Mr. Robert King

rose, to present a Petition from the Inhabitants of the County and City of Cork, respecting the Established Church of Ireland, of his intention to present which he had last night given notice. The individuals by whom it was signed, in all 3,000, were all members of the Established Church. When the importance of the subject, and the number and respectability of the parties from whom the Petition had emanated, and who had intrusted it to him, were considered, he was persuaded that the House would deem it entitled to most serious attention. The objects which the petitioners had in view were, to effect a more equal distribution of the Church Revenues in Ireland, and to correct the abuses which existed in the administration of that Church. The petitioners declared, that they were convinced of the purity of the doctrines of the Protestant Church—that they were convinced of the purity of the Episcopal Establishments—that they were desirous of supporting the privileges of that Establishment—that they distinctly acknowledged the right of the Established Church of Ireland, as a body, to the Church Properly and Revenues—that they were far from considering that property and those revenues as superabundant, if they were more equitably distributed; and that they earnestly deprecated the application of any portion of the Church property to secular purposes, as tending to violate the principles of the Constitution, to endanger the connexion which ought to subsist between the Church and State, and to lead to national confusion and ruin. But while they were extremely desirous that the Church revenues should not be invaded for any temporal purposes, they contended that those revenues ought to be more equally distributed among the different classes of the members of the establishment. At present some of the dignitaries of the Established Church in Ireland enjoyed much beyond what the most liberal estimate would consider them entitled to, while on the other hand, those members of the Church on whom the most arduous and important duties devolved, received pittances insufficient for the supply of their most moderate wants, and entirely inadequate as a provision for those who performed services of so valuable a character. While, therefore, the petitioners admitted that a diversity of orders required a diversity of incomes, they were desirous that that diversity should not be so excessive, but that from the superabundant wealth of the one class the means should be derived of providing more adequately for the other. The petitioners also observed, that various abuses had crept into the administration of the secular affairs of the Established Church of Ireland; and they especially complained of the plurality of benefices enjoyed by some incumbents. This plurality necessarily involved all the evils of non-residence, and was evidently a misappropriation of that property to one individual, which, if distributed, would afford competence to several. The petitioners likewise remarked, that the evils of non-residence were not confined to those members of the Established Church in Ireland who held a plurality of benefices; but that, owing either to a defect in the laws which were intended to enforce the residence of the clergy, or to a laxity in the discipline of the Church, many beneficed clergymen were absent from their parishes; by which usage, those bonds which ought always to exist between a pastor and his flock were entirely dissolved. The petitioners also observed, that there did not seem to be sufficient authority on the part of the dignitaries of the Church, to control the moral conduct of the other classes; and that, as they considered it to be essential to the well-being of the Church itself, that the rulers of it should have an effectual control over those who, however corrupt and profligate, still participated in the revenues of that establishment which their conduct tended to injure and degrade, they were anxious that the episcopal authority of the Established Church of Ireland should be maintained and strengthened by the interposition of the Legislature. Such was the substance of the Petition which he would now beg leave to present.

On the Motion for bringing up the Petition,

Colonel Beresford

said, he did not intend to offer any opposition to the reception of the Petition, but he wished to state one or two facts. His hon. friend, in presenting the Petition, had spoken of it as being most respectably signed, as if it represented the sentiments of the entire Protestant population of Cork. But the fact was, that. out of a population of 30,000 Protestants, only 3,000 had signed this Petition; that though there were seven or eight peers resident, or connected with that county, only one individual amongst them had affixed his name to the Petition: and that out of 300 magistrates, only fifty-eight had put their signatures to it. He did not at all mean to question the respectability of those who had signed it, but he understood that since the public exposition of his sentiments which had been made by the noble Lord who presided at the meeting where this Petition originated, several gentlemen who had signed it had expressed a wish to withdraw their names from it.

Mr. Hume

observed, that many of the opinions expressed in this Petition, respecting the Established Church of Ireland, were similar to those which he had himself expressed in that House many years before. He had at that time reprobated the pluralities and the other abuses in the Church of Ireland, to which the Petition adverted. He regretted that he was not at the present moment in possession of the admirable remarks on the subject, which had been subsequently made by the noble Lord who presided at the meeting from which the Petition emanated. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, had denied that the Petition proceeded from the majority of the Protestant inhabitants of the County and City of Cork. But could he say that the averments of the petitioners were false? Could he deny the force of their statements? And was not a Petition, proceeding from 3,000 persons, fifty-eight of whom were Magistrates, and one a Peer, deserving the most serious attention of the House? As to its having been signed by only one Peer, it was not very extraordinary that few Peers should be found disposed to sign such a Petition, since it was their interest to keep the revenues of the Church at the disposal of the Ministers, who, as the noble Lord to whom he had already alluded stated, employed them for the purpose of bribing both Peers and Commoners. He knew the sincerity of the hon. Gentleman who had presented the Petition; and he claimed equal credit for sincerity when he declared that he entirely differed from the hon. Gentleman and the petitioners in their opinion, that the existing Established Church of Ireland was suitable to the present time, or fit for the country in which it existed. He had on a former occasion stated that a reform of that Establishment was loudly called for, and that the salaries of many of the Bishops and other Clergy were greatly disproportionate and extravagant. He perfectly agreed with the opinions of the petitioners respecting the number of pluralities and non-resident Clergy, and the various evils thence resulting; but he did not agree with the petitioners or with the hon. member for the County of Cork, that the whole of the revenue of the Established Church in Ireland ought to be maintained. The hon. Member was for what he called an equitable distribution of the Church income, but that income was in itself greatly too large. It was evident, from history, that the property of the Established Church was public property, at the disposal of that House, which had the right to take it from one set of men and give it to another. Suppose the House should declare that the Established Religion of the country should henceforward be Quakerism. In that case there would not be anything to be paid to the Ministers. What then would become of the property of the Church? Would it be allowed to remain in the hands of its present possessors? Certainly not Parliament would take it, and apply it as in its wisdom it might think fit. The property of the Church was not upon the same footing as private properly. Private property the Legislature had no right to touch, but it had an undoubted right to alter the disposal as well as the distribution of Church property. He did not think, therefore, with the petitioners, that the application of the Church property to secular purposes would be attended with revolutionary or other evil consequences. He was firmly convinced that, after pro- viding what was sufficient for the maintenance of the Protestant Clergy in Ireland, it was the duty of the House other- wise to employ what was superfluous; and for the purpose of ascertaining what was superfluous, it ought to institute the inquiry which the petitioners wished for. He cordially supported, therefore, the prayer of the Petition, and he hoped it would not be long before it was acceded to, and before his Majesty's Ministers would consent, either by a commission or by a committee of that House, to inquire from one end of the Empire to the other into the state of the Church property, with a view to its more proper distribution and application.

Mr. King

explained,—The statements which he had made he had made from the Petition. The Petition had attached to it the signatures of two or three Members of that House, and of the Mayor, Sheriffs, and other respectable inhabitants of Cork. The petitioners were members of the Church of England, and unconnected with any party.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

did not rise to enter into a discussion upon the subjects adverted to in this Petition, because he was of opinion that discussions upon the presentation of petitions were peculiarly inconvenient. He rose for the purpose of entering his protest against the supposition that his unwillingness to enter into those details now, argued an acquiescence, on his part, in the principles avowed by the hon. member for Aberdeen. That hon. Gentleman appeared to allude to some former contests with him upon this subject, and he seemed to intimate, that in those contests, he (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had uniformly attempted to defend, or to deny altogether, the abuses which were stated to exist in the Established Church in Ireland. Now, he was sure that those hon. Members who had done him the favour to attend to what had fallen from him with regard to those different subjects when under discussion, would recollect that he had uniformly expressed his opinion, in accordance with the sentiments of several of the most respectable Clergymen connected with the Church of Ireland, that several evils connected with the state of the Established Church in Ireland required correction. There had accordingly been much, he might say, done within the last few years, to place the Church of Ireland on the footing on which it ought to stand. There had grown up lately a desire in all ranks of people, and especially in the Church itself, to remedy those abuses which were admitted to exist, and which owed their existence not to any neglect or fault of the heads of the Church, but to the particular circumstances in which the Church itself was placed. He hoped that this subject would be discussed upon the principle of removing abuses where abuses were proved to exist, but not upon the principle of condemning the whole body of the Clergy because there had been sonic members of it who had misconducted themselves; still less upon the principle of appropriating the revenues of the Church, as was proposed, by the hon. Member op- posite, to such purposes of their own as might best square with the wants or the conveniences of the public Exchequer.

Lord F. L. Gower

rose for the purpose of saying a few words in consequence of the self-complacency with which the hon. member for Aberdeen referred to this Petition, signed by fifty-eight Magistrates of the county of Cork, as a confirmation of the peculiar views which he had himself; previously taken of the state of the property of the Church in Ireland. However valuable the hon. Member might conceive this Petition to be as a confirmation of his own arguments, he would venture to affirm, that there was very little concurrence in the main between these petitioners and the hon. Member. The Petition set out with a description of the advantages which the petitioners considered their country to have derived from the Established Church,—a point on which their opinion was much at variance with the opinions usually advanced by the hon. Member. Then, as to having the Church dealt with as the other establishments of the country were, by annual estimates, he must say, that he did not rely much on the prophecies which the hon. member for Aberdeen had made upon that head. On referring to that old almanack of which they had occasionally heard so much in that House, he found that there was no instance in which the property of the Church had been dealt with in the liberal fashion recommended by the hon. Member, where the property of individuals had been held sacred. If he should ever live to see the Church property thus dealt with, he should then deem his own property no longer safe. He would, therefore, oppose such projects to the utmost of his power. His conduct in so doing might not appear 'very meritorious, as it would be founded on a motive of self-interest, but he saw no reason why men should not consider their own interests, when the consideration of them tended also to the public benefit.

Lord Oxmantown

said, he differed entirely from the hon. member for Aberdeen, but he did not think the presentation of a petition the proper opportunity for entering into any extended discussion of the subject. He certainly was disposed to find fault with the system by which the Curates of the Church of Ireland were left entirely at the mercy of the incumbents of livings of which the Curates dis- charged the actual duties. This arose chiefly, he believed, from the practice of appointing young clergymen to curacies before they were licensed, and he should propose, as an improvement of that system, that every curate should receive his license as soon as he received his curacy. By such a system he would be placed under the protection of the Bishop of the diocese, instead of being left, as he was at present, in a state of dependence upon his rector, differing very little from that of a servant upon his master.

Sir John Newport

did not rise to prolong the discussion, but merely to remind the House, that it was not many days since it had presented an Address to the Crown, praying that it would appoint a commission to inquire into the abuses of the Ecclesiastical Establishments in Ireland. That commission had since been appointed, and he therefore was of opinion that, until the report of that commission was presented, any discussion like the present was both ill-timed and injudicious. When that report was laid upon the Table, they would see what abuses were clearly proved to exist, and what remedies were most easily applicable to them. For this reason, he should not trouble the House with any further observations on the present occasion.

Mr. Moore

would not have said a word upon the present occasion, had it not been for the extraordinary misapprehension under which the hon. member for Aberdeen appeared to labour. He would beg leave to remind that hon. Member that this Petition had been in preparation for some months before the meeting of Parliament. Those who had proposed it had challenged all the Protestants of Ireland to come forward in support of it. That challenge had not been answered,—a circumstance which, by itself, was a sufficient refutation of the allegations of the hon. member for Aberdeen, that his views with regard to Church property had met with the sanction of the great body of the Protestants of Ireland.

Mr. Baring

wished to enter his protest against the doctrine which had just been laid down by the two right hon. Gentlemen opposite, that in no case was it competent for Parliament to meddle with the property of the Church, which was to be considered as safe as any gentleman's private property. At the same time, he felt himself bound to declare, notwith standing all the respect which he felt for the public conduct of his hon. friend, the member for Aberdeen, in other respects, that the hon. Member was the last man in the world to whom he would submit cither the reformation or the re-organization of our Church establishments. Still, he was of opinion that, without some revision, these establishments might be involved in great danger. He particularly adverted to the mischief likely to arise from the unequal distribution of the property belonging to the Church. There were several Bishops in England, who were unable to reside in their dioceses, owing to the want of proper residences within the limits of them, and owing to the insufficiency of their incomes to provide such residences. He happened to know that a most venerable and meritorious prelate, the Bishop of Hereford, resided, not in his diocese, but at Winchester. The Bishop of Llandaff resided in London, where he held other preferments, from the insufficiency of his income to provide him a suitable residence in Wales. The Bishop of Rochester, whose jurisdiction extended over a large portion of Kent, had an income not larger than many of our parochial clergy, whilst there were Bishops of other sees, with incomes so great as to amount to 100,000l. a-year; or at least with incomes which would reach that amount in a very short time. When such was the case, he thought that it could no longer be denied that some change must be made in the distribution of the property of the Church, for the sake of the Church itself. He had no wish to establish an equality of revenue and of rank in the Church. He felt the advantage of our having and retaining a gradation of both; but still, it would, in his opinion, be of great advantage to the character of our hierarchy—which, he admitted, stood as high as that of any hierarchy in the world—to have such a distribution of property made among its members as would enable all of them to reside within their dioceses in a manner suitable to their rank in the Church, and to their respectability in society. When he was told that these were matters with which it was not competent for Parliament to deal in any imaginable case, he felt bound to protest against the doctrine. If Parliament acted upon such a doctrine, it would not promote but injure the Church. What the state of the Church of Ireland might be, he did not pretend at that moment to know. On that point he should have better information when the report of the Ecclesiastical Commission was laid upon the Table; but this he knew, that there was sufficient power in the three branches of the legislature to revise the distribution of its property. He would say the same with respect to the Church of England; not that he thought that Church too rich or too well paid; all that he contended for was, that Parliament had not merely the power, for that was unquestionable, but also the equitable right to exercise the power of distributing the property of the Church, as it thought most advisable, among the members of the Church. Whether Parliament had a right to say, "The Church is rich and too well paid, and we will devote its surplus revenue to the formation of Schools and Collegiate Endowments," was another question, into which he had no intention of entering on the present occasion.

Dr. Lushington

had no intention of speaking upon this Petition when he entered the House, but felt himself called upon to rise, in order to set right a statement which had just been made respecting some of our Bishops, and their mode of performing their duties. His hon. friend, the member for Callington, had stated to the House that the Bishop of Llandaff, who possessed but a small income from his diocese, resided constantly in London, owing to his being unable to provide himself with a suitable residence in his diocese in Wales. But he could inform the House, from his own knowledge, that that meritorious prelate had held it to be his duty to hire, at his own expense, a residence within his bishopric, and had gone down to it last summer, for the express purpose of performing his Episcopal duties. He should be extremely sorry if it went forth to the public that the Bishop of Llandaff had failed in the discharge of the functions of his station, when his conduct was of the most exemplary description. Next, as to the residence of the venerable Bishop of Hereford at Winchester. When the House considered that that Prelate was now past eighty years of age, and that he had discharged his duties in the most exemplary manner, as long as his strength and health permitted, it would hardly expect a man of his advanced age to do more than what he now did. It was only last year that he had gone down to his own diocese, though with great pain and suffering to himself. But then, said his hon. friend, "There are sees of which the incomes either arc, or shortly will be, 100,000l. a year. "Last year, however, they had had before them a bill for the purpose of enabling the Archbishop of Canterbury, to raise a sum of money for the repair of Lambeth Palace, and other purposes therein specified. Upon that occasion it was proved that his whole annual income did not exceed 32,000l. That was the greatest amount of income enjoyed by any English Bishop. Neither the see of York nor the see of Durham was worth any such sum. The revenues of the see of Durham, which was thought to be the richest see, he was assured, upon good authority, had never exceeded 22,000l. a year. As. to the revenues of the bishopric of London, he must admit that they were on the increase. What might be the consequence of building on the land belonging to that see he could not pretend to tell; but he was of opinion, that the most sanguine calculator could not anticipate any thing at all approximating to such an income as his hon. friend had just stated, though he admitted that many buildings had been recently constructed on land belonging to the see of London. He thought it necessary to make this statement, as it would be productive of great inconvenience if the assertions of his hon. friend should go forth to the world without a contradiction. With respect to the Church of Ireland, he had only a few words to say. The noble Lord on the other side of the Mouse thought it a defect in the discipline of that Church that curates were not licensed as soon as they received their curacies. But there was no such defect in its discipline as he imagined. If the noble Lord would look at a small volume, by a writer who possessed as much talent and ability as any Bishop who had ever sat upon the Bench,—if he would look at the first charge which Horsley, Bishop of St. Asaph, delivered to his clergy, he would see that the Bishop told them, in words as plain as could be, that if they continued to employ curates without licenses, he would proceed against them, one and all, as the law directed. The licensing of curates was, in his opinion, a matter of great importance; and he could wish that greater attention were paid to it throughout the country. He could assure the noble Lord that the employment of curates without licenses was not the discipline of the Church of England; on the contrary, express provision was made, that no man should perform permanent duty in any of our churches or chapels without receiving either institution as incumbent, or license as curate. That provision was one of the best safeguards of the Church, and had always been so considered by our greatest writers upon ecclesiastical matters. With respect to what had been said of Church property, he wished to observe, that his views with regard to it did not accord exactly with those avowed by either of the two parties which had sprung up in this discussion. In certain cases he considered Church property to be individual property, as in the case of advowsons; in other cases he looked upon it as public property. As to altering the present system of its distribution, that was a project to which he, for one, could never consent. He knew the inconveniences which occasionally arose from one clergyman holding a small and another a profitable preferment; but when he balanced those inconveniences with the advantages which he saw springing every day from the present system, he was reluctant to disturb the present arrangement for any which had yet been proposed in its stead. He must have stronger reasons than any which he had hitherto heard to satisfy his mind that he should be doing right in adopting any of the alterations which had been recently suggested. With respect to the Church of Ireland, and he might add the Church of England,—he agreed with those who said that pluralities and non-residence were sources of great mischief and inconvenience, and he would accede with pleasure to any measure which would put a stop to these evils. He had often considered whether it might not be expedient to pass a prospective law, enacting that no clergyman, who should be ordained after a certain day, should be permitted to hold a plurality of livings, unless they were so contiguous as to enable him, whilst residing upon one, to perform in person the duties of all. To any remedial measure which should compel the residence of the clergyman who received the profits of the living no one could be more friendly than he was, considering the residence of the incumbent, to be one of the greatest blessings that could happen to a parish. He had seen the advantage of it over and over again in England; and thank God, it had latterly been exemplified in Ireland also. By the various measures which the right hon. Gentleman opposite (the Chancellor of the Exchequer) had introduced into and carried through Parliament since he had been in office, he had effected—and what was more, he had been the first person who had effected—a great reformation in the Church of Ireland. So far as related to the introduction of measures beneficial to that Church, the right hon. Gentleman had accomplished a great and permanent good. There was a time—it was in vain to deny it—in which every appointment in the Church of Ireland was regularly bought and sold. At the Union, a number of appointments to offices in the Church were made, without regard to any thing except the interest which could be secured by them. Of late years that system had been departed from, and the duties of the Church had, in consequence, been performed more decorously and more beneficially than before. When he saw the Church thus improving, not, indeed, so rapidly as he could wish, but still, at any rate, progressively improving, he could not help hesitating before he gave his consent to any strong measure which, under the name of revision, might effect a revolution in its constitution and discipline.

Lord Oxmantown

had no doubt that the learned civilian had correctly explained the law; but if the law respecting the licensing of curates were such as he had stated, it was never acted on, and he believed it was unknown in Ireland. He was himself acquainted with a case, in which a clergyman had faithfully performed the duties of a curate for five years; during the whole of that time he never could succeed in obtaining a license, and at the end of it he was dismissed by the rector who employed him, without any cause being assigned for his dismissal.

The Petition read.

Mr. Baring

said, that from the observations which had just fallen from his hon. and learned friend, he was afraid that he had unintentionally used expressions which reflected on the conduct of the reverend prelates whose names he had mentioned in his former speech. He assured the House, that if he had used such expressions, it was most unintentionally. No one could entertain a higher respect than he did for the Bishop of Hereford; and he fully agreed with his hon. and learned friend, that while his health and strength permitted, no prelate was more anxious to perform his duty to the congregations committed to his charge. The usefulness of the Bishop of Llandaff's labours to the Church was undeniable, and it was impossible that any duty which that prelate undertook should be inefficiently performed. In mentioning the names of those illustrious prelates, he had no other object than to observe, that they might obtain from their respective sees a sufficiency for the support of their rank in the Church and in society. He believed that at no former period was the reverend bench more respectably filled than at pre- sent. Still, he thought it a great inconvenience that one Bishop should have only 1,500l. a-year, whilst another had 32,000l. Such an arrangement did not contribute to the preservation of the independence of the clergy. Great as the information of his hon. and learned friend was on ecclesiastical subjects, he must say, that in his opinion his hon. and learned friend strangely under-rated the incomes of some sees. He had judged of the amount from their ordinary income, and had not taken into his consideration the fines paid for the renewal of leases, which were considered as part of their extraordinary income, though some fell in every year. The Bishops of some sees received in this manner more than three times the amount of their ordinary income.

Sir R. Inglis

concurred in the observations which had been so pertinently made by the hon. and learned civilian who had just addressed the House. From every information which he had been able to acquire, the hon. and learned civilian was perfectly correct in the maximum of income which he had assigned to the different sees of Canterbury, York, and Durham, arising not only from ordinary, but also from extraordinary receipts. The income of the Bishops in Ireland had been so grossly exaggerated, that if he were to say that it approached a fourth part of the sum ordinarily stated, he too should be guilty of gross exaggeration. With regard to the Bishop of Hereford, he had enjoyed the satisfaction of being known to that venerable prelate for the last twenty-seven years, and, in point of fact, was under great obligations to him. From his acquaintance with him he was able to say, that no man could discharge his duties in a more punctual, faithful and exemplary manner. Last year he had gone down to Hereford, and had resided three months in his diocese. He concurred with the right hon. Baronet in his remark as to the propriety of not then discussing the merits of the Irish Church, and he hoped that no further reference would be made to this subject until they had upon the Table the report of the Ecclesiastical Commission, which had been recently appointed.

Petition laid on the Table. On the question that it be printed,

Mr. Hume

took the opportunity of complaining that two of the right hon. Gentlemen on the opposite benches had strangely misrepresented what he had stated respecting Church property. He would never shrink from avowing any language which he had uttered; but he thought it a little too bad to hear language palmed upon him which he had never used. There was all the difference imaginable between the property belonging to Deans and Chapters and the property which private individuals had in advowsons. He wished that the vested interest of every incumbent, and of every advowson should be held sacred. His observations merely applied to Church property belonging to Bishops, Deans and Chapters, and other ecclesiastical corporations. The result of this debate satisfied him that some further inquiry was necessary, and he trusted that Ministers would institute it speedily.

Petition to be printed.