HC Deb 13 February 1833 vol 15 cc617-22
Mr. Harvey

stated, that a series of questions, intended to be put to the principal clergy of the Established Church, and to others possessing Church Property, had been drawn up with great propriety by the Commissioners of Ecclesiastical inquiry. One question, however, had been omitted, the answer to which, if such a question had been propounded, the noble Lord would see would have been most important. To remedy that defect, he should move, that an humble Address be presented to the Crown, praying that his Majesty would be pleased to direct the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to ascertain the localities of all Church Property, the amount of rent paid thereon (other than rack-rent), the probable number of acres in each place, and the actual annual value thereof.

Lord Althorp

said, that he did not think that this was a return at all called for at present, while the production of it would throw a considerable impediment in the way of the conclusion of the labours of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. He understood the object of the hon. Gentleman's Motion, if object it had, to be, that the Commissioners should inquire into the value of Church Property, not merely with a view to ascertain its amount, as applicable to the support of the Church, but also to ascertain the amount of that property that was applicable to the support of private individuals. Now, it appeared to him that it was not at all necessary to have such a return. Besides, the hon. Gentleman's Motion certainly did not apply to the motion which had been before the House last night, for, as he understood it, the hon. Gentleman's Motion applied solely to England, and had no reference whatever to Ireland. Where, he would ask, was the necessity for the Ecclesiastical Commissioners going into a complete valuation of all the Church lands in England, which they must do in order to comply with the terms of the hon. Gentleman's Motion? What object would be gained by their going into an inquiry so extremely operose, and so utterly unnecessary? Such a return, in the end, would prove nothing with regard to the revenues of the Church; it would only show what fines were imposed upon the renewal of leases for Church Property, and what sums were given for long leases of such property. Was it necessary for such a purpose that they should go into a valuation of all the Ecclesiastical lands in the kingdom? Such an inquiry would not put that information into the hands of hon. Members which it would be desirable for them to obtain, at the same time it would occasion a great deal of trouble, and give rise to a large expenditure. He should, upon these grounds, oppose the hon. Gentleman's Motion.

Lord Stormont

wished to know from the noble Lord what he meant by those words in his Speech last night, which had been just referred to by the hon. member for Colchester, where he spoke of the proceeds that would be derived from letting out ecclesiastical lands in Ireland in perpetuity? Did the noble Lord mean that such proceeds should be devoted to ecclesiastical purposes or not?

Lord Althorp

said, that in the statement which he last night made upon the subject referred to, and which had been repeated on the same occasion by his right hon. friend, the Secretary for Ireland, he meant to say this—that in his opinion all the sums of money that would be derivable from the increased value of the land occasioned by the mode of purchasing leases of Church Property in perpetuity that should be devised by Parliament, ought not to be considered Church Property, and that therefore, without infringing upon, or at all bringing into question, the principle, with regard to which he was aware that great difference of opinion existed,—namely, the principle of the applicability of Church Property to state purposes—he thought that the proceeds to which he had alluded should be considered as State Property, and applicable to such purposes as to Parliament should seem fit.

Mr. Harland

asked whether it was intended to diminish the number of the Irish Ecclesiastical Representative Peers in the House of Lords?

Lord Althorp

said, that it was not his intention to propose a diminution in the number of the Irish Bishops in the House of Lords. While he was upon his legs, he would remind hon. Members that it would be a much more convenient and satisfactory course for them to put such questions to him, in reference to the details of the measure, when they were in Committee upon it.

Mr. Hume

said, that he wished to put a question on this subject to the hon. member for Staffordshire, who, he believed, was one of the members of the Ecclesiastical Commission. He wished to know from him whether any of their inquiries had been directed to the objects which this motion had in view? No man could doubt, that if the Church of England was to come under the consideration of that House, as it was tolerably certain that it would, and that at no distant period—no man, he repeated, could doubt, if that should be the case, that it would be most desirable that the House should be put in possession of the most accurate and detailed information with regard to the amount and the value of the property be-longing to the Church of England. Such was the object of his hon. friend's present Motion, and it was most desirable, that the information to which it referred should be obtained. A return of this description was absolutely necessary, so contradictory were the opinions that were at present entertained with regard to the amount of Church Property. While some held that the Church Property would not be sufficient to pay all the clergy, he knew that it was held by others that the whole of the Church Property vested in the Bishops alone was more than sufficient to pay all the clergy. Suppose if that property which was derived by Bishops from the fines upon the renewal of leases, &c., should, instead of amounting to 1,000,000l., as was stated by some, amount to 10,000,000l., as was asserted by others, he (Mr. Hume) would put it to the noble Lord, if an amount so extravagantly great was required, as a remuneration for the duties which they performed, and if the greater portion of it should not become the property of the State? He would submit to the noble Lord that nothing was more desirable than that the House should obtain the fullest and the best information on this subject. Indeed, if he wanted to find a reason for supporting his hon. friend's Motion, he could not find a better one than that stated by the noble Lord himself in his Speech last night with regard to the Church of Ireland—namely, "that greater exaggerations existed upon that point (the amount of the revenues of the Irish Church) than upon any other political topic that had ever come under his (Lord Althorp's) consideration; and that he confessed, until he had looked into the subject himself, he had exaggerated even to himself the amount of the revenues of the Irish Established Church." Was it not equally necessary, in case similar exaggerations existed with reference to the Church revenues in England, that accurate information should be afforded to the House and the country upon the subject? If the Ecclesiastical Commissioners could afford them the information in question, it would be most desirable to obtain it from them. Of this he was well satisfied—that, in one way or another, this information must be obtained; but it would be more desirable to have it afforded through such a quarter.

Mr. Littleton

said, that having been referred to by his hon. friend as one of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, he had no hesitation in stating, that the inquiries made by the Commissioners with regard to the Church Property in the hands of bishops would not furnish the information respecting the value of Church Property, as contemplated by the Motion now before the House; and he rather apprehended that the conclusion of the labours of the Commission would be materially delayed if the Commissioners should be obliged to go into the inquiries proposed by the hon. member for Colchester. He would state, that the fullest possible information had been afforded by the Prelates in reply to the inquiries of the Commissioners; that, indeed, no individuals could have exhibited a more anxious desire to communicate every possible information with regard to it; and this he was justified in saying of the Commissioners—that they had pursued their inquiries with as much diligence, and with as great a solicitude to arrive at the truth, as if the Commission had been composed of the most thorough-going Reformers in that House.

Mr. Harvey

said, that he did not apprehend that much delay would be caused in bringing the labours of the Commissioners to a close by calling upon them to produce the information which he now sought for by the present Motion. That such information should be possessed by the House he did not suppose would be denied, and he thought it would be as readily conceded that this was the proper period for obtaining it, when, as he supposed, they were about to make a searching reform into the Church Establishment of this country, as well as into the Church Establishment of Ireland. Sooner or later, such information must be laid before Parliament, and the only question was, when they were to have it. If the report of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners was ready, it might be presented, and this information could be supplied in a supplementary report, which it would not take them much more than a month to make out. On account of what had fallen from the noble Lord, he (Mr. Harvey) would not press this Motion to a division upon the present occasion, but he would withdraw it for the purpose of giving notice of it for that day week, when he would certainly take the sense of the House upon it.

Motion withdrawn.