HC Deb 04 March 1833 vol 16 cc104-15
Lord Robert Grosvenor

presented a Petition from certain Inhabitants of the City of Chester, connected with the principality of Wales, praying an inquiry into the state of the Church Establishment in that part of the Country. The noble Lord said, that although the petition was signed by only 100 of the inhabitants of that city, he believed it contained the sentiments not only of a majority of that city but of a large majority of the inhabitants of Wales generally. He trusted the House would allow him briefly to state what the petitioners complained of as grievances. He believed that it was pretty well known to most of those present, that the principality of Wales was divided into three districts, over which the spiritual jurisdiction was given to the Bishop of St. David's as to the southern districts, and over the northern districts the Bishops of Bangor and St. Asaph presided. In North and South Wales the situation and condition of the Church Establishment was very different, as in the north the church was rich, while in the south, on the contrary, it was rather poor. The petitioners complained that the great tithes were for the most part paid to the Bishops, Deans, and Chapters of St. Asaph, Lich- field and Coventry, and Chester, and that the livings were principally in the patronage of Bishops or laymen not connected with the principality of Wales, and the consequence was, that they were bestowed upon gentlemen (eligible certainly in point of education), the friends of the patrons, who had no feeling in common with the people, who did not even understand their language, and who did not confer upon them the boon of residence. The petitioners further stated that two-thirds of the small tithes were in the hands of rectors and other persons, from whom the people received no spiritual instruction. That duty was left to the Welsh curates—a body of men for whom he had the highest respect; but hon. Gentlemen must know that their education could not possibly be so good as such a responsible duty required. It was well known that they could expect from the Church no more than from 150l to 200l. per annum—an expectation too limited to afford such an education as was requisite for the discharge of such a duty. It would naturally be supposed, that where the tithes produced something like a sum of 2,000l. per annum, the curate would be handsomely paid out of that; but, unfortunately, such was not the case. Few of them were in the receipt of more than 100l., not more than 20l. of which came from the tithes, 40l. more of it was made up from fees, or, as was frequently the case, by being schoolmaster, and the remainder—that is, the same amount so raised—40l., was made up from that much-abused trust called Queen Anne's bounty. So that the petitioners complained, that while such large sums of money were drawn for tithes, the curates were left unprovided for. They also complained that in fact they were taxed to make up those salaries which the rectors ought to pay, having only a few years ago been called upon to vote a sum of 14,000l. in order to make up that fund. With regard to South Wales, the tithes were principally held by laymen, and the consequence was, the prevalence, to an extraordinary extent, of pluralities and absenteeism. In one county, out of eighty benefices, there were only thirty in which there were resident clergymen. The curates were for the most part exceedingly ill off, and some of them were so ill paid that they were obliged to rent farms for their subsistence. Others, again, found themselves compelled to perform duty in several parishes, some of them in as many as four in one day, and, as a natural cones- quence, the service was very irregularly performed in those parishes. The petitioners stated, that the Bishops of St. Asaph and Bangor were much overpaid. He would not pretend to say what might be the extent of the remuneration deserved by the duty performed, but this, he would say, that nothing could be more pernicious than the manner in which their revenues were raised, viz., by attaching to them the incomes of many benefices, thereby depriving those benefices of the advantages they would otherwise enjoy. He thought he had now pretty nearly stated the amount of grievances complained of in the petition, but they did not ask for a Repeal of the Union. Yet they were as much, if not more, aggrieved than they would be by merely paying their tithes to clergymen of a different persuasion, for two-thirds of the tithes were paid into hands from whom they could receive no spiritual assistance of any kind. All they asked for, however, was justice, and for an inquiry to ascertain the amount of the revenues enjoyed by the clergy in Wales; and he trusted that his Majesty's Government would apply itself to redress the wrongs of a people distinguished alike for talent, courage, loyalty, and patience, not under the apprehension of danger, but under the guidance of the still small voice of justice. The minds of the Welsh people had been much alienated from the Established Church, by the abuses which prevailed in it. When he stated that out of 2,200 places of worship in Wales, little more than one-third belonged to the Established Church, the well-wishers of that Church would sec that it was high time to check the abuses which prevailed in it. He begged pardon for having so long taken up the attention of the House upon this subject, but when it was considered that he advocated the cause of a class of people but little able to protect themselves, he doubted not the House would readily grant him the pardon he prayed.

Mr. C. W. Wynn

said, highly as he respected his neighbours in the city of Chester, he thought the complaints of grievances in Wales, if any such could be made, would come with a better grace from the parties who resided in Wales, and who experienced those grievances; at the same time he must agree that it was open to every member of the Established Church to state any circumstances which he might think were prejudicial to that Establishment. Those persons, though not personally affected by the existence of the alleged evils, were not precluded from laying them before the House; but, at the same time, it was extraordinary that these alleged evils had not been before complained of rather by the inhabitants of Wales than by those of Chester. It was perfectly true, that in the diocesses which had been made, in the diocess of St. Asaph, for instance, the tithes which previously belonged to the monasteries, (as in many parts of the kingdom) were, at the Reformation, given to other ecclesiastical bodies, such as the deans and chapters of St. Asaph, of Winchester, of Westminster, and to colleges in both Universities. In other cases, the tithes were vested in private individuals; but, in this respect, the people of Wales were not worse off than others. Tithes, so vested, had for a period of 300 years, been matters of purchase and sale; and the property was held in the same manner as if it were land. But his noble friend was mistaken in one part of his statement, in which he observed, that there were instances in which non-resident incumbents, and of curates who did the duty, being paid out of Queen Ann's Bounty. Such could not be the fact, us that fund was confined to the augmentation of small benefices, and could not be applied to stipendiary curacies. With respect to non-residence, it was a very great evil, which it was the bounden duty of Parliament, in every way in its power, to put a stop to. He had been always anxious to support measures to compel the residence of incumbents; but such attempts had too frequently been thwarted by conflicting interests. Persons having purchased the patronage of two livings, and wishing to provide for a son or a brother, had contended for the right to appoint the same person to the two livings. Upon examining the Returns which had been laid before Parliament on this subject, it gave him great pleasure to find, that there were fewer non-residents in the diocess of St. Asaph, than in most of the other diocesses, and he owed it to the character of a most excellent man to state an honourable instance in which a reverend Prelate refused to grant two livings to any one person. He alluded to Dr. Cleaver; who, when he first became the Diocean of St. Asaph, had said to him: "I have laid down a rule that I will not grant two cures of souls to one man. I have two sons in the Church; and I have stated to them distinctly, that they may have the choice of the best English livings my patronage can give. The best single English livings I will of course give to them; and if I refuse to give them more than one living, no person can think that I am acting unkindly by them in refusing to give more than one cure of souls to one person." He regretted that this had not been the constant practice of other Bishops, who thought themselves justified in bestowing more than one living on the same individual. He was certainly not prepared to deny the propriety of the complaint which was urged in respect to the want of knowledge of the Welsh language on the part of incumbents, in some instances; but he believed that this great abuse had been, for some years past, materially lessened, in consequence of the resistance which was made on the part of a parish to such an appointment, as illegal. In some parishes in Wales in which the English language was wholly or at least principally used, the Welsh language was not a necessary qualification. There were, however, parishes in which there is a mixed population, and where the duty was alternately performed in the two languages. In these it was very usual to appoint an English clergyman, assisted by a Welsh curate, but such appointments were not satisfactory. On the contrary, the clergy ought to understand the Welsh language otherwise they could not efficiently discharge many of the duties which devolve upon them; and one of which was as important as that of performing the Church service on a Sunday—he meant visiting the sick, and ministering to their spiritual wants and comforts. The noble Lord stated, that there were in Wales 2,200 places of worship, of which not one-third belonged to the Church of England; that was to say, that the majority of these chapels were frequented and supported by Dissenters. 'That evil did not owe its origin to any remissness on the part of the ministers of the Church. The parishes in Wales were very extensive, and in some cases many of the parishioners were above four miles distant from the church. Chapels and places of worship, according to the Established Church, could not be legally founded without endowments; and it was impossible to make endowments sufficient for the support of a church for a scattered and indigent population at such inconvenient distances. Dissenting meeting houses served by occasional preachers were far more easily constructed. Was it then to be wondered at that the people gave a preference to a chapel near their own doors, rather than go three miles to attend wor- ship? Perhaps the best way to remove the evil complained of would be to adopt a plan which had been sometimes suggested; of reviving some of the inferior orders of the Church, and licensing persons, of the rank of parish clerks, to read in any convenient place of meeting, the prayers of the Church of England, and a homily, or sermon from a collection to be published by authority, but not to empower them to preach from their own composition. This he had reason to know had in some instances, been done, irregularly, but to the advantage of those who otherwise would have had no opportunity of attending the service of the Established Church.

Mr. Wilbraham

was desirous of making a few observations on this occasion, as he had been particularly requested by many of his friends in Wales to do so. The petition came from persons, like himself, friends to the Church of England, who did not wish to take advantage of her imperfections, but rather to see them cured. He considered the picture, however, which it drew of the state of the church of England in Wales to be over-coloured. It was most important that the House should thoroughly understand that the Welsh Bishops did not understand the language of the country over which they presided: and it was impossible they could perform their duties without a knowledge of such language. There had also been an exclusive system of appointing Englishmen to be Welsh Bishops. There had not been an instance of a native Welshman being appointed a Bishop since the reign of the Hanoverian Family. This was a state of things that ought not to have so long existed. It could not be said, that the reason was, that the Welsh were not capable of being appointed to the Bishops' Bench, because there had been several instances of Welshmen having translated the Bible into their native language, and of having shown acquirements calculated to entitle them to any situation, however high. If a knowledge of the language was not to be required of the Bishops, at all events no man could deny that the clergy at large ought to possess it. It had been declared by one of them that it was repugnant to the will of God that any person should presume to preach to the people in a language not known to them. The cure of souls without that knowledge was unintelligible to him. According to the system that had been pursued, he knew not what was meant by it. As to sinecures, or pluralities he knew, that one gentleman in North Wales was in possession of no less than eleven pieces of preferment—nine livings and two preferments that involved no duty. There were, he was sorry to say, two religions—one for the rich, and another for the poor—one for the Aristocracy, and another for the natives of the country—one for the Cambro-Briton, the other for their Saxon masters. Such a Church, he did not hesitate to say, drove from its bosom a vast body of people, who would otherwise feel in no way disinclined to adopt its tenets.

Mr. Finn

would not have risen had it not been that the noble Lord introduced the question of Repeal of the Union. He had said, that in the principality of Wales you have absentee Bishops and clergymen, and why in Ireland should you not have absentee landlords? In Wales, at least, one-third of the people belonged to the Establishment; but in Ireland not one sixteenth belonged to it. In Ireland they had an absentee Legislature, and an absentee proprietary, drawing upwards of 5,000,000l. annually from the people.

Earl Jermyn

rose to order. The Church of Ireland, or the absentee Legislature of Ireland, had nothing whatever to do with the Welsh Church. If discussions of that sort were permitted, the presentation of petitions would be utterly excluded, and the time of the House would be occupied with nothing else.

Mr. Finn

had only risen to answer the observations of the noble Lord.

The Speaker

observed, that the remark of the noble Lord was not only-unquestionably correct, according to the rules of the House, but the observance of the rule was absolutely necessary to the progress of its business. The observations of hon. Members should have reference to the subject before the House. Whether the illustration which had been made by the noble Lord was apt or not, he was not called upon to decide. He trusted, that the hon. Member, after what had been stated, would not pursue his observations with respect to Ireland.

Mr. Finn

said, he would confine himself to the question as laid down. Where there was true religion, and a love for any particular form of worship, its supporters would never seek assistance from the State. As a striking instance of what he said, let them look at his own country, where the people, impoverished and burthened as they were, erected places of worship in abundance without one shilling of help. They might pull down religion by riches, but they would never build it up by such means. wealth was at the Lest but a bad auxiliary, and the alliance of Church and State an adulterous one.

Sir John Wrottesley

considered, that the great evil which prevailed in the Church was non-residence. On this subject there was a great anxiety throughout the whole country, and he, therefore, trusted, that the present Session would not pass over without some means being adopted for insisting upon the clergy residing in their own cures, and effectually doing their duty. In demanding that, he required nothing new, for by an Act of Henry 8th, parishioners were empowered to enforce the residence of their clergyman, and what he wished was, to bring back that state of things. A most improvident Act was passed in the reign of Geo. 3rd, merely because it was found to press severely on clergymen who had large families and small livings. That Act, instead of insisting upon and enforcing residence, in some cases legalized it, and placed the whole of the power in the hands of the Bishops, who, he hoped, used it well and properly; but he was much afraid they too often allowed themselves to be led away by their kindness of heart. He hoped, that in any measure regarding non-residence, those persons who were most interested in the question, the parishioners would have the power of enforcing that which was their right—the residence of their pastor.

Mr. Cobbett

had not been inattentive to the present discussion, nor was he when the Act passed, to which the hon. Baronet had alluded. When that Act passed, he had warned the country, that, in a few years, it would prove the ruin of the Church. The Act was brought in by Lord Stowell, then Sir William Scott, who was member for one of the Universities, and he did that at the call of his constituents, in order to relieve them from between. 700 and 800 informations which had been laid against them for non-residence under the 13th of the reign of Elizabeth. He had a notice of a motion on the books of the House, for a Return of the exact number of actions thus quashed by this law, which he considered one of the most unjust Acts ever passed by any legislative assembly. Such was, in fact, the number of informations that was quashed by that most infamous Act—infamous it certainly was, for it was a post facto law, by which the informer lost not only his time, but a large sum of money. For his own part, his attachment to the Established Church was not to be questioned, for he had a certificate of it from a Bishop. Yes, the Bishop of Salisbury, in a pamphlet he published in 1813, stated that he knew of no lay writer who was a friend to the Established Church. In the second edition, however, he said, in a note, I beg Mr. Cobbett's pardon, for I do believe him to be a friend to the Established Church. Having this under the hand of a Bishop, he need not put forward any professions of attachment to the Church. The consequence of the passing of the Act to which he alluded had been the indefinite multiplication of non-resident clergymen. But the Act, besides, repealed the 13th of Elizabeth, one of much importance, which prevented the clergy from renting farms in the parishes of their several benefices; and also prevented them from trafficking, that is, buying and selling the same thing for a profit. It relieved them from all those shackles, and enabled them, by the permission of the Bishops, to be traffickers, and to rent fams in their own parishes, thereby enabling them to take many unfair advantages of their parishioners. He did not mean to impute any improper motive or neglect of duty to the hon. Baronet who had just spoken, but he must observe, that he was in the House when this Act passed. [Sir John Wrottesley said, he did not anticipate these effects.] He dared to say the hon. Baronet did not, but one of its effects had been, that out of ten thousand benefices, there were only 4,000 that had regular incumbents. The consequence was, that everywhere, as the hon. Gentleman had said, people were quitting the Established Church. Another had been, that since then the clergy had become traffickers and renting farmers, and had fallen very much in public estimation. Indeed, he had said before many times, and said now, that if he wanted a good jobber to go to a fair for him to buy or sell sheep, or to go pig-poking, or anything of that kind, there was nothing like a parson. The noble Lord had, in the petition just presented, brought forward quite evidence enough to justify the House in imposing some check to the present system—indeed, in making some great change. He knew that a great change might be made without injury to the religion of the Church. He had seen the Church of England in America, and admired its management there. There were Bishops and clergy, and he never knew an instance of parishioners giving their clergy- man less than 400l. per annum; and it was impossible that any clergy could be more respected and beloved. Indeed, the clergy of the Church of England in America commanded a much greater share of obedience than the clergy in England. Now, why should they not have a Church Establishment like that of the Church of England in America? Certain he was, that we should never go on right in this country, till the whole system of tithing, and of the Church Establishment, should be totally altered.

An Hon. Member

begged, in reference to what had fallen from the hon. member for Kilkenny, to assure him that there was not a more religious or a more loyal people than the population of Wales. They had built about 1,400 chapels in North and South Wales—there were altogether in Wales about 2,200 places of worship, of which about 1,400 belonged to Dissenters. As to the mode of collecting tithes, that was, in his opinion, a very great grievance, but the inhabitants of Wales generally placed the fullest reliance on his Majesty's Government, and looked to them for accomplishing such a Reform as would give general satisfaction.

Mr. Estcourt

rose to complain of the observations addressed to the House by the hon. member for Oldham. A petition had been presented, relative to the mode of performing the Church service in Wales, and the hon. Member had taken advantage of that to refer to a subject not before the House. He protested against that sort of application of the hon. Member's ingenuity; and he cautioned the House against countenancing any such statements. That hon. Member would have the House believe, that of 10,000 benefices in England, there were but 4,000 resident incumbents. He (Mr. Estcourt) did not recollect what the Returns were, and therefore he was not prepared to deny that statement; but he put it to the observation of hon. Members, whether they believed there were such a number of non-resident clergymen. As far as had fallen under his own observation, he was persuaded that the assertion was not true. He knew that the Bench of Bishops were most earnest in enforcing residence, and therefore the insinuation that the Bishops had put a very convenient construction on the Act of Parliament was unfounded. The hon. Member might perhaps be able to put Ids finger upon some particular parish, where no clergyman resided, but the general fact was not as he had stated it. If the hon. Member would adopt the only proper course, and give notice of Motion upon the subject, he (Mr. Estcourt) would come down prepared with documents to show that the hon. Member's statement was not correct.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

said, that statements of facts had been made in that house which a regard to correctness ought to have prevented. They ought never to have been hazarded without better grounds. He hoped the hon. member for Oldham would abstain, for the future, from making statements to the House without making himself satisfied of their correctness. He (Mr. Fergusson) was quite convinced, that it would be more consistent with that hon. Member's own dignity, as well as with his character in that House, if he would ascertain the correctness of every fact before he brought such subjects as he frequently indulged in under the notice of the House. Upon a former evening, when the member for Oldham brought forward a motion on the subject of the Stamp Acts, he stated the most atrocious facts, which had no foundation in truth, and which he (Mr. Fergusson) had the honour at the time to controvert. The facts also which the hon. Member affirmed respecting the Jews were of the most atrocious nature. He had since taken an opportunity of communicating with the chief Rabbi of the Jews on that subject, and the result was, that he was empowered to say, that the statements hazarded by the hon. member for Oldham were utterly without foundation.

Lord Althorp

said, that already during the discussion one hon. Member had been called to order for adverting to a subject not before the House, and he put it to the hon. Member, whether in bringing forward any observations respecting the Jews, he thought they had anything to do with the petition they were now discussing?

Mr. C. W. Wynn

explained, that what was meant by a sinecure rectory was, that a rectory was separate from a vicarage. The rector was sometimes a layman, with no ecclesiastical duties to perform, and therefore there could be no benefit in enforcing residence regarding him, for if it were enforced he could not perform any duties.

Mr. Sanford

would take that opportunity of inquiring if it was the intention of his Majesty's Ministers to do anything on the subject of the non-residence of clergy?

Lord Althorp

said, that various questions relating to a Reform in the Church of England were under the consideration of his Majesty's Government, and the subjects of non-residence and pluralities were included in the consideration; indeed, on this particular part of the case, he believed. Ministers would be enabled to bring in a Bill in the course of the present Session.

Lord Robert Grosvenor

thought it very-objectionable, that when a parish was paying 2,000l. or 3,000l. a year, to a lay impropriator, the country should still be taxed in respect to that parish. He could tell the right hon. Gentleman opposite that in Bangor non-residence existed to a very great degree, and particularly in the Isle of Anglesey.

Mr. Cobbett

said, the hon. member for the University of Oxford had declared, that he had mis-stated a fact about the non-residence of the clergy. Now he spoke from the return. He said, that out of 10,000 parishes and upwards, England and Wales, there were but 4,000 that had resident incumbencies. He might have added, that, in nearly 300 parishes in England and Wales, the churches had been suffered to fall down, and he might have gone on to have added that the clergy still continued to receive the tithes from those parishes.

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