HC Deb 09 August 1836 vol 35 cc1045-55

Lord John Russell moved, that the order of the day be read for going into Committee on the Pluralities' Bill.

Mr. Hume

wished, before this motion was carried, to submit to the noble Lord whether, at the close of the session, it was expedient to proceed with this Bill, and whether it was possible that due consideration could be given to it? No man was more anxious for reform in the Church than he was; and, he believed, he was the first to introduce the subject in Parliament, but when he did so, and when he advocated the appointment of a Commission, he had expected a comprehensive reform, and a Report from the Commissioners which would have embraced every branch of the Church Establishment. He submitted to the noble Lord, that as he had agreed to put off other Bills relating to the Church, it would be well if he would not now proceed with the present measure, but allow it to lie over till the next session along with the Dean and Chapter Bill. In the mean time, as the Commissioners had taken upon themselves to new-model the dioceses of the Bishops, they could also take upon themselves to new-model the various livings in the country, and take into their consideration whether there were not more livings than ought to exist, whether some livings were not larger than they ought to be, whether others might not be extended, and whether different duties and incomes might not be affixed to them. By that means the noble Lord would be able to fulfil the wishes of the best friends of the Church, and an end would be put to the eternal trouble which the Church now gave to the Legislature of the country; for what with the Church in Ireland and the Church in England the business of the nation was absolutely stopped, and it almost required a Parliament of itself to deal with those two subjects. And, after all, what was the result of their exertions? No sooner did this House pass any measure than it was thrown out elsewhere, so that much valuable time had been lost. He could not allow this Bill to go on, which would give a sanction to pluralities which were now illegal, and which was a partial and garbled measure as regarded reform, without entering his protest against it. There were seven or eight Bills on the table, all of which were of much more importance than this in its present imperfect state. Why should they be postponed? What had become of the Marriage Bill, the Registration Bill, the Newspaper Bill? Did the noble Lord really mean to take up the whole of the evening in a Committee on this unsatisfactory measure, while these Bills were waiting for consideration, and which ought to be disposed of one way or the other? He had received a communication from the hon. Member for Greenock, stating that he had left London under the impression that this Bill would not be proceeded with this session. Mr. O'Connell and Mr. Rippon, the Member for Gates-head, had also expressed their opinion that this Bill would not be again brought on. He, therefore, hoped the noble Lord would not persevere with the measure.

Mr. Wilks

said, that it was doubtful whether he should have originated any observations on this matter; but as they had been introduced, he confessed he should be a traitor to himself and to the vast proportion of the community with whose feelings he was acquainted with respect to this subject, if he did not join with his hon. Friend in entreating the noble Lord not to press forward this measure during the present session.

Lord John Russell

must say, that he had hardly expected to have such a request made to him as had been made by the hon. Gentlemen who had just spoken. At the time the Bill came down from the House of Lords, he over and over again declared that it was his wish to press this measure forward. But it was urged upon him more than once, that there were other Bills of great importance waiting to be sent up to the House of Lords; he had, therefore, repeatedly deferred this Bill, not because he was not willing to bring it forward, but because other Bills required to be advanced in their several stages. Having so deferred it, however, that was now made an argument against his proceeding any further with it this Session. Certainly it was a reason why on future occasions he should not consent to any delay that might be required of him. He could not agree in the view taken of this Bill by the hon. Member for Middlesex, and therefore it was not likely that he should come to the same conclusion as to the course to be pursued respecting it. It had been said that this measure ought to have been as great in its leading enactments, as the Reform Bill, or the Municipal Corporations Bill. He never expected to bring forward any measure of that kind respecting the Church. There was a vast distinction between the two former cases and the present. With regard to the Reform Bill, they could at once exclude a great number of boroughs, and erect a new plan of Parliamentary representation. So with respect to the Municipal Corporation Bill, they could enact that all old corporations should at once cease, and that no new corporations should be erected. But in this case, where the interests and incomes of individuals were concerned, it was quite impossible to proceed in such a manner. They could not say, that a man holding two benefices, within a certain distance, should immediately forfeit one of them, neither could they say, that a Bishop, who was at present living, should be subjected to a great reduction of the income of his benefice. It was quite impossible, therefore, that a Bill upon this subject could at all resemble those two former measures, that of Parliamentary and Municipal Reform. It appeared to him that this Bill would do a great deal to prevent what he considered to be a great abuse, and for which the law at present afforded no remedy. The Ecclesiastical Canons, and Ecclesiastical Courts, would not allow pluralities beyond the distance of thirty-five miles, but he did not believe that the courts of law afforded any remedy against two livings being held together at the distance of 300 or 400 miles apart. If he were to agree to the postponement of the Bill, such pluralities as these would continue. Believing, then, that this Bill would be of very great advantage, and would go a great way in reforming the abuses of the Church, and considering also that it had come down to them from the House of Lords, he was disposed to persevere in it. He could not see any advantage in beginning again with this Bill in another Session, and that for the reason which had been assigned by the hon. Member for Middlesex, for his wishing to postpone the measure, namely, that it would retard the bringing forward other measures which the interests of the country required. For his own part he wished he could bring forward several measures relating to the civil and criminal laws of the country, but all of which were delayed on account of the necessity of considering the Bills relating to the Church. It appeared to him, therefore, very desirable that they should now consider the Bill before them, especially as he believed there were but two or three points on which any great difference of opinion could take place. Every body wished to get rid of pluralities. The hon. Member had said, that the Bills sent up from this House to the House of Lords, were almost uniformly rejected. But with respect to this Bill, they might be quite sure that no such course would be pursued, as it had been already assented to by the Lords.

Mr. Hutt

could not consent to the proposition of the noble Lord. He did not think that the noble Lord was making a discreet use of his unquestionable right of pressing forward this Bill under the circumstances now existing. He did not mean to say, that the Bill would not effect any good, but the most important part of the subject which the Bill ought to embrace, seemed to be passed by entirely. It was true the evil of pluralities would in some degree be remedied, but there was no regulation whatever made with regard to the incomes of the clergy. It would still be possible for the golden prebend of Durham, and the rectory of Stanhope, to be enjoyed by the same person at the same time; and he would ask the Noble Lord whether that was right, or whether it gave him satisfaction?

Mr. Cresset Pelham

was of opinion that if it were not disrespectful to the House of Lords, it would be in many respects advantageous, if this measure were postponed till the next Session.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

thought it was the duty of the House to carry forward the Bill. That would indeed be of doubtful propriety, if passing this measure would throw an insurmountable obstacle in the way of passing a better measure next year. He should not in that case, be in favour of passing the Bill; but ten miles was some limitation, and he thought, therefore, they ought to go into a Committee

Colonel Sibthorp

would not oppose going into a Committee, but would bring forward an amendment in that stage.

Mr. Warburton

objected to proceeding with the Bill. It gave the Bishops power to alter the ecclesiastical boundaries of parishes, and might affect the question of Church-Rates; at such a late period of the Session he was for postponing the Bill.

Mr. Lennard

said, if his objections to the Bill were only in detail he should be ready to go into Committee. But after having carefully examined it he must say his objections were to its principle. The Bill sanctioned pluralities and. non-resi- dence, without at the same time laying before us any scheme by which we might hope at any time to see those abuses abolished altogether. He had hoped that before any measure of this kind was brought forward some opportunity would have been afforded for considering, whether a much larger sum might not be subtracted from the revenues of the Church dignitaries, for the augmentation of the small livings. It was impossible, when there were 3,000 or 4,000 clergymen in England, with livings under 300l. a-year, that the House should sanction a measure, giving to Deans of Durham or Westminster 2,000l. or 3,000l. a-year. It was preposterous to legislate upon this subject, without having first ascertained the real amount of the property of the Church, and inquiring whether there might not be found funds sufficient to increase these small livings at least to 200l. a-year each, and then enforce residence upon them. But supposing it were right to overlook this consideration, (which he did not admit it was) still let him ask, was it right that a Dean of Durham or of Westminster should be permitted, in addition to the large incomes attached to their Deaneries, to hold wealthy livings, thus bringing their income in some cases to the amount of 6,000l. per annum? He would also ask, whether it was necessary for some Canons to have 2,000l. a-year, while others were obliged to be content with 500l. Would it not be better to reduce these overgrown incomes, and, out of the surplus, to raise the salaries of the poor hard-working clergy, before the Legislature gave its sanction to pluralities? He (Mr. Lennard) considered that the framers of the Bill had adopted a very vague and erroneous criterion in the present state of Church property, with regard to pluralities. He might be considered as uttering a paradox when he gave it as his opinion, that if you go to such a great distance as ten or fifteen miles you gain in reality little, for unless the two livings were so near to one another as to allow of one clergyman performing the duties of both, he did not think any limitation as to distance at all did away with one great evil of pluralities—the disagreements likely to occur between two persons both holding authority over the same living. He should have been much better satisfied, if the criterion adopted, instead of distance, had been the conjoint value of the two livings; and if it had been enacted, that when their limited value exceeded 600l. or 700l., the surplus should be paid over to the Commissioners of Queen Anne's Bounty, for augmenting the smaller livings. With regard to non-residence, a great deal had been said as to the advantage which would result from the provisions contained in this Bill for its abolition; and in some cases it might be true that such was the case. But what would the House say to that part of the Bill which sanctioned non-residence in favour of a Bishop's chaplain? [An Hon. Member: "It is the law now."] He was aware of that; but if the exception is to be made, let it not be allowed in the case of a beneficed clergyman. If the Bishop must have a chaplain, let the Bishop pay for one, not saddle upon the people in some distant parish the expense of maintaining him, at a cost which would provide that parish with ample resident religious instruction.

Mr. Goulburn

thought the hon. Member for Maldon must be friendly to pluralities, as he was so anxious to preserve them.

Mr. Wakley

opposed the Bill. To pass it would only put off the remedy for the abuses in the Church, and there would continue to be, as now, hundreds of starving curates, and sons of clergymen with more livings than they could look after. It was a Bishop's Bill, and he hoped, unless it was to be admitted that the House of Commons was to obey the Bishops, that his hon. Friend would persevere in opposing the Bill.

Mr. Borthwick

said, he should have been better satisfied had this measure originated in a convocation of the clergy, instead of commission composed partly of Bishops. He was aware that there were high authorities against the revival of convocations. But he confessed his opinion was in their favour, and he might observe that they were preserved in the Church of Scotland—a Church presenting one of the best models of Ecclesiastical polity ever displayed. However, he should support the Bill, as it was generally beneficial so far as it went. It brought the Church of England under the surveillance of legislation, and got rid, to a great degree, of pluralities and non-residence—two abuses which had crippled her energies and diminished her usefulness.

Sir Robert Inglis

rose to express his dissent from the doctrine of the hon. Member for Evesham as to a measure of Church Reform, emanating from a convocation of the English Clergy. With regard to the Bill itself, his opinions were well-known upon this subject: but the House having sanctioned the principle of the Bill, he should not object to its going into Committee.

Mr. Ewart

considered, that this measure if passed would not be the beginning but the finale of reform in the Church with respect to pluralities and non-residence; for when a real substantial measure of Reform was brought forward, it would be objected that this Bill having been passed, the Church was reformed enough already upon these points. This was a measure only of demi-reform. The Government were not the parents of it, but they had adopted it. And he (Mr. Ewart) hoped they would not entertain the same affection for it, as if it were their genuine offspring. He should support his hon. Friend in calling- for the postponement of this Bill; for it was his opinion that they must lay anew the foundations of the Church ere they passed any measure for the purpose of gilding its battlements.

On the question being put,

Mr. Hume

was bound to take that opportunity of stating, that as the noble Lord would not agree to any reasonable proposition, he felt bound to express his disapproval of the course his Majesty's Government had taken. It was highly objectionable for the House to lend itself to a Bill like that, which was an abortion of reform. If the noble Lord would alter the second and third clauses, by enacting that no person should hold more than one dignity or one benefice, if he would be revenged on the Lords in this way, he (Mr. Hume) would go into Committee and assist in passing the Bill. Let them resolve that pluralities from henceforth should be at an end, and they had ample means for the maintenance of every existing clergyman. He objected to proceeding with this Bill, because the Church Revenue Bill—an excellent one in itself—had been stopped by some unseen agency They could not hope for one consistent plan unless they had an opportunity of considering all the four Bills relating to the Church at one and the same time. Why did not the Church Discipline Bill go on? Had any Bishop put a spoke in the wheel? He concluded by moving that the Bill be taken into consideration on that day three months, for the purpose of getting rid of it for the Session.

Mr. Lennard

supported the amendment on the ground that the Bill allowed pluralities without providing the means of ultimately getting rid of them. He strongly objected to the measure, as being calculated to postpone all reform.

Lord John Russell

, in answer to the last observation of his hon. Friend, con tended that by throwing out this Bill it would be delaying reform in the Church, as it would continue for a longer time the present system of pluralities. His hon. Friend, the Member for Middlesex, complained that they had not proceeded with the Bill for the augmentation of the value of small benefices. He (Lord J. Russell) was anxious to carry that Bill, but had not persisted in moving its progress in consequence of the opposition he met with in the House, and in the face of which he could hardly hope to carry it. Those who originated that opposition now came forward and blamed him for not persisting in carrying that measure. If he had had no other opposition to meet with on that Bill than that of the deans and chapters, he certainly should not have postponed the Bill. He thought it quite right to adopt measures to get rid of pluralities and to enforce residence, and also that some means should be adopted for the augmentation of the value of small livings, and had had hopes that that object would have been effected by the Bill he had introduced during the present Session. If, however, this measure before the House passed, he trusted, that before next year, by the changes that would be effected, they would be the better enabled to carry into operation means for the attainment of the latter object. He, however, begged to repeat that it was not his fault that the measure alluded to by his hon. Friend had not passed into a law, but he had postponed it in consequence of the opposition made to it in that House. He hoped and trusted that the measure that would be brought forward on the subject next. Session would be considered as an excellent Bill.

Mr. Aglionby

protested against the Bills respecting the Church being proceeded with during the present Session.

Mr. Cresset Pelham

quite concurred in the propriety of postponing this Bill until the next Session.

The House divided on the original question:—Ayes 66; Noes 28: Majority 38.

List of the AYES.
Adam, Sir C. Borthwick, P.
Angerstein, J. Brabazon, Sir W.
Bagshaw, J. Brownrigg, S.
Barclay, D. Burrell, Sir C.
Baring, F. T. Campbell, Sir J.
Bellew, R. M. Chapman, A.
Bernal, R. Corbett, T. G.
Blamire, W. Crawford, W.
Donkin, Sir R. Parnell, Sir H.
East, J. B. Pemberton, T.
Elley, Sir J. Perceval, Col.
Fergusson, R. C. Pusey, P.
Fitzroy, Lord C. Rice, rt. hon. T. S.
Fleetwood, P. H. Richards, R.
Freshfield, J. W. Rolfe, Sir R. M.
Gladstone, T. Russell, Lord J.
Goulburn, H. Sandon, Lord
Goulburn, Sergeant Seymour, Lord
Grey, Sir G. Shaw, rt. hon. F.
Hall, B. Sibthorp, Col.
Hobhouse, Sir J. Smith, R. V.
Hoskins, K. Steuart, R.
Howard, P. H. Tancred, H. W.
Howick, Lord Thomson, C. P.
Hoy, J. B. Thompson, Ald.
Labouchere, H. Thompson, Col.
Law, hon. C. E. Tynte, C. J. K.
Lennox, Lord G. Wilde, Sergeant
Lushington, Dr. Williams, W. A.
M'Leod, R. Wood, C.
M'Namara, Major Woulfe, Sergeant
Murray, J. A.
O'Ferrall, R. M. TELLERS.
Palmer, G. Maule, F.
Palmerston, Lord Stanley,—
List of the NOES.
Baines, E. Palmer, General
Barnard, E. G. Pelham, J. C.
Bewes, T. Philips, M.
Bowes, J. Potter, R.
Brotherton, J. Robinson, G. R.
Butler, hon. P. Thornley, T.
Chalmers, P. Villiers, C. P.
Crawford, W. S. Wakley, T.
Ewart, W. Warburton, H.
Hawkins, J. H. Whalley, Sir S.
Hindley, C. Wilks, J.
Horsman, E. Williams, W.
Hutt, W.
Lennard, T. B. TELLERS.
Lushington, C. Aglionby, H.
Marjoribanks, S. Hume, J.

The House went into Committee.

Upon Clause 2 being proposed,

Mr. Hume moved as an amendment upon the clause, the following:—"That from and after the passing of this Act no spiritual person holding preferment in the Church of the value of three hundred pounds net shall hold any other preferment therewith."

Lord John Russell

could not support the amendment.

Mr. Harvey

asked if it were the intention of the Government to give to the country a real, whole some, intelligent system of Church Reform? Here they were in the middle of August, when many were looking forward to the 1st of September, with a measure before them containing provisions for maintaining high livings in the Church so numberless, that it was impossible for anybody in the twenty-four hours, who had anything else to do that was worth doing, to make himself acquainted with the subject; and if individuals ventured to oppose the Bill they heard the vulgar cry that was raised against the Lords, that they were kicking out measures of reform, But the Lords were not opposed to this Bill; they were perfectly satisfied with it; it entirely met their views. This was not only the Government of the Lords, but it was a lordly Government. They lose their places! Not at all; they were floating with perfect safety on the tide of episcopal satisfaction. In no case ought there to be more than one living vested in the same person. The object of the Bill was not to make the Church useful, was not to apply the income to practical purposes, but to keep the existing system as tight as possible; this was the object of the Government in this measure.

Lord John Russell

said, there had been a great variety of plans proposed to-night, and no two exactly similar. The hon. Member for Southwark had his plan; the hon. Member thought that the only plan which could give satisfaction to this country was one to take away the 3,000,000l., or whatever the amount might be, and divide it in certain proportions or in equal proportions among all the ministers. Thus, if an individual had estimated a living at 600l. a year, and had given a proportional price for it, the hon. Member would proceed to take away from that living 300l. without granting compensation, and would transfer this amount to the smaller livings. He was glad to hear the hon. Member for Finsbury dissent from the motion.

Mr. T. Duncombe

understood that all vested interests were to be held sacred. There was nothing so new in the proposal. Mr. Pitt's plan was, that the income of the Church should be paid into the Exchequer, and that the amounts of the livings should be thence doled out to the clergy.

Mr. Harvey

said, that Ministers ought to abandon the measure for this Session. Instead of effecting reform it would be an effectual barrier to reform; it would retard reform for many years.

Amendment withdrawn.

Mr. Hume

then proposed, as an amendment, that after the passing of this Act no individual holding one or more benefices should accept a dignity or office in a cathedral; and that no person holding one or more dignities should accept of any other dignity or benefice.

Mr. Thomas Duncombe

had another proposition to make; it was, that the Chairman report progress. He was sure the noble Lord must feel the impossibility of passing this Bill during the present Session. They were now discussing this measure for four hours, and they had only passed one clause. If they were to proceed, every other clause would occupy as much time, and they would be sitting until November. There was the Dissenters' Marriage Bill. They ought to recollect that they had done nothing for the Dissenters this Session. Now, before they took up the Dissenters' Bill, they ought to look after their own Bill. There were the Registration and the Marriages Bills, and they ought to proceed with them.

Lord John Russell

hoped they were making progress with the Bill. He did not propose to proceed with the Bills referred to by the hon. Member for Fins-bury that night. He thought they should be taken up at an early hour in the evening, and he proposed to go into the consideration of them on Thursday.

House resumed. Further consideration of the Bill postponed.