HC Deb 10 March 1836 vol 32 cc155-67
Lord John Russell

appeared at the Bar with the Report of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. On its being brought up, the noble Lord, in moving that it be printed, stated that, in presenting the second Report of the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the slate of the Church, he thought it proper, in conformity with the course which his noble Friend at the head of the Administration had adopted in the other House, to state shortly the general subject and nature of the Report. It would be in the recollection of the House, that the Commission was appointed, and the Commissioners were named, when the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Tamworth, was at the head of the Administration. The persons appointed were certain of the Archbishops and Bishops, and other per- sons more immediately connected with the Church, and three or four persons holding high situations in the Government. When the right hon. Baronet went out of office, he, and all those in office with him, withdrew from the Commission, and, with the acquiescence of the heads of the Church, a new Commission was issued, which included the name of his noble Friend at the head of the Government, and other persons holding similar situations under this Administration, to those which were held by the members of the former Administration, forming part of the Commission, and vacated their seats. Although, therefore, the persons in the Commission were changed, the objects of it were not altered; and he believed that he was entitled to say, that the discussions at the Board of Commissioners had always since then been carried on in the most amicable and friendly spirit, with the view of preparing measures for the benefit of the Church and the advantage of the country. The Commissioners had been able unanimously to agree to a Report, involving some of the remaining important points not touched upon in the former Report. The subject of inquiry, as originally proposed, was divided into three heads. The first was respecting the territorial division and revenue of the bishoprics. The second respected the revenues of the cathedrals and collegiate churches, with the view of making their revenues more conducive to the services of the establishment; and the last subject of consideration had reference to the residence of the clergy, and to promote the due performance of their proper functions. Now, as regarded the first branch of the inquiry, the first Report had proposed, in the first place, a different territorial distribution of the dioceses, in order to make them more equal; then a suppression of two sees, and the erection of two others. Thus far as regarded the duties. As regarded the revenues, the Report proposed that the greater part of them should be brought within a scale not exceeding 5,500l., and not less than 4,500l.; and that none but the two archbishoprics of Canterbury and York, and the bishoprics of London, Durham, and Winchester, should be made exceptions to the rule. The only material alteration in this plan proposed to be made by the present Report was that, as regarded the territorial distribution of the sees, that portion of the diocese of Bristol which it had been proposed to make part of the see of Llandaff, should now be united, as far as regarded the city of Bristol, with the diocese of Bath and Wells; and, as far as regarded the other portions of it, that it should be united to the see of Gloucester. It was also proposed to unite the see of Sodor and Man to that of Carlisle. Then, with respect to the revenues of the several bishoprics, the present Report proposed certain diminutions. Taking the returns as presented to the Commissioners — which, however, might not be quite accurate, but they were the only ones of which the Commissioners had been able to avail themselves—it would appear that the present Report proposed these changes:—

Sees. Present Income. Reduced to Surplus.
Canterbury £17,000 £15,000 £2,000
London 12,200 10,000 2,200
Durham 17,800 8,000 9,800
Winchester 10,700 7,000 3,700
Ely 11,000 5,500 5,500
Worcester 6,500 5,000 1,500
To be united.
St. Asaph 5,200 5,200 3,800
Bangor 3,800
Leaving a total surplus of £28,500
Now, it was proposed that this excess should be divided among thirteen other sees, so as to increase their revenues to between 3,000l. and 4,000l. per annum. With respect to the sees of Bath and Wells, Norwich and Salisbury, no alteration was proposed. The effect of the new distribution would be in conformity with the suggestions in the first Report, that there would no longer be the great disproportion, so much complained of, between the amount of the revenues enjoyed by the respective bishops, and the duties performed by them; with the additional benefit, that the evils of uniting benefices in commendam to the bishoprics, and of translation from the poorer sees to the richer, would be got rid of. The Report staled, that the whole of the episcopal revenues would suffice to provide for the whole number of bishoprics now proposed, but it also suggested that there should be some measures taken in order to change the mode of granting leases for lives and terms of years; but that was a subject which the Commissioners had found to be attended with much difficulty, and they had not made any distinct proposition upon it. With regard to the next branch of the inquiry entered into by the Commissioners—the amount and present distribution of the revenues of cathedral and collegiate chapters—the Report entered into some statements, The chapters were, at present, divided into two orders— those of the old foundation and those of the new foundation. Those of the old foundation were those which were founded before the reign of King Henry 8th, and they had this peculiarity, that they had not only separate estates affixed to each prebend, but that there were also in each a number—in some a larger, in others a smaller — of prebendaries and persons attached to the cathedral, but with no obligation of residence, and with smaller or larger incomes, and no duties to perform. Those of the new foundation were somewhat more systematic. They generally had an estate belonging to the dean and chapter, giving a yearly income, the surplus of which, after deducting expenses, such as for repairs of cathedrals, was divided generally into two portions, one portion for the dean, and the other for the other members of the chapter. The manner in which the Commissioners proposed to deal with these establishments was, in the first place, that all those prebendaries to which the condition of residence did not attach, and all other similar offices, should be altogether suppressed, their incomes being merged into some fund for the benefit of the clergy, and for the extension of the instruction afforded by the Church. And, with respect to the collegiate chapters in general, it was proposed by the Commissioners not to abolish them altogether, but to leave in each cathedral a sufficient number of dignitaries duly to perform the services of the cathedral, adding something to the incomes of the more distinguished. It was proposed that there should be a dean and four canons to each cathedral, and that all above that number should be suspended. The consequence of these proposed measures would be that, as regarded the chapters on the old foundation, there would be three hundred and sixty-eight prebendaries abolished, and that, as regarded those on the new foundation, the duties would be better regulated, and the service of the cathedrals better provided for. From these different measures there would result a surplus revenue of 130,000l. per annum, including the abolition of seventy sinecure rectories, thirty of which were in the gift of the Crown. With respect to the canonries and stalls remaining, it was considered that one of them might, in most cases, be made useful in maintaining an office of great importance—one of which was particularly conducive to the performance and due inspection of the affairs of the Church, but which was at present very ill remunerated—he referred to the office of archdeacon. It was proposed (he spoke generally, without adverting to particular cases) that one of the stalls should be attached to the office of the archdeacon. In some cases it might be advisable to attach a stall to the living of some adjoining populous parish the revenues of which were small. This had already been done in the case of Westminster, where one of the stalls which fell vacant during the Administration of the right hon. Baronet was given to the incumbent of a populous parish in the neighbourhood of the House. There was also another of the stalls in Westminster Abbey which it was now proposed to attach to the parish of St. John's, Westminster. These were particular instances. As regarded others which had fallen vacant in other chapters, it had also been thought adviseable to propose that they should be affixed to the cures of large and populous parishes. He now came to the last and most important branch of the inquiry—the provision for due residence on the part of the parochial clergy. With respect to this, it was proposed that the number of clergymen to be exempted from continual residence should be very much reduced— that these exemptions should be confined to the chaplains immediately in attendance on the Bishops, and on the Royal Family, the Heads of Universities, and the principal masters of Westminster and Eton schools, besides some others, which he need not now name. With respect to the time of residence, it was not proposed that any very material alteration should be made, except that deans should be obliged to reside nine months, and that a canon holding a benefice should not be allowed to be absent from it more than four months, including the three months during which he would be in attendance at the cathedral. With respect to pluralities, some considerable changes were proposed to be introduced into the law regulating these. It was proposed that no person should hold more than one living, together with a dignity, and that no one should hold two livings, the distance between which was greater than ten miles, or when one should yield more than 500l. per annum. This rule, it was proposed, should be absolute as regarded the dis- tance of ten miles; but, with respect to the annual income of 500l., it was proposed to extend it to meet the case of a clergyman holding rather a rich benefice and willing to hold another contiguous to it, the population of which might be very considerable in proportion to its income, in which case it was further proposed that the Bishop of the diocese should have power to grant a provisional licence, of which an immediate report should be made to the Archbishop, by whom the case would be laid before the King in Council, who would have the alternative of disapproving of the proposed licence. Having now stated the proposals of the Commissioners for the better arrangement and distribution of the duties of the various livings, it became necessary to say in what way it was proposed to dispose of the surplus funds which the new provisions would create, and which would come into the hands of the Commissioners, or, more probably, of some permanent Board to be appointed for the purpose. The object would be to dispose of this amount in such a manner as to make it beneficial to the church. Now, it would be evident to the House, that when such restrictions in the holding of a plurality of livings were imposed, it would be exceedingly difficult for clergymen, not holding more than one of the smaller livings, to live in that independent style that was desirable for a minister of the Church. It appeared that the relative values of the livings were as follows:—Of benefices under 150l. perannum there were 3,528, and of those under 100l. there were 1,926; of these the population of thirteen was above 10,000—of 51 above 5,000—of 251 above 2,000, and in 1,125 the population was between 500 and 2,000 persons; making 1,440 benefices having more than 500 inhabitants, with less than 150l. per year. Without troubling the House with the calculations which brought him to the result, he (Lord John Russell) would state, that if the stipends of the smaller livings were raised to 100l. per annum, and if the stipends of those of which the population was more than 500 were raised from 100l. to 150l. more than 160,000l. would be required to effect the arrangement; but at the same time it must be borne in mind that the sum to be derived from the suppressions which he had before stated to the House as forming part of the propositions of the Commissioners, would afford ample scope for its being carried into effect. On the other hand, there were also other evident means of applying any surplus which might afterwards remain, because, if the disproportion of church accommodation to the numbers of the population in the several parishes were taken into account, there would be found to be an ample field for an advantageous expenditure of the amount. Taking London alone, there were four parishes, containing 166,000 inhabitants, in which there was church room for only 8,200, less than one-twentieth. There were 184 parishes, containing 1,137,000 inhabitants, in which there was church accommodation for only 125,000, about one-tenth of the whole. In certain parishes of Lancashire, there was a population of 816,000, and only church accommodation for 97,700, or about one-eighth of the whole. There were also various other instances stated in the Report, showing, that while the population had very much increased, the churches and church room had not increased in proportion. He trusted that when the Commissioners came to consider this part of the subject, respecting which they had not as yet made their Report, a measure satisfactory to all parties would be suggested for the appropriation of this surplus, and that it would be directed to supply religious instruction to those places which were in absolute want of it. In many districts the Dissenters had supplied part of the deficiency by their chapels, but there were others in which the want of the means of religious worship was still very great. It was undoubtedly much to be regretted that such a want should exist, but he thought that Parliament would be convinced, when it was known that the highest dignitaries of the Clergy, the Bishops, and other elevated members of the Church, as well as the Crown, were ready to place at the disposal of Parliament a great portion of patronage and revenues which belonged to them. When these two parties gave up privileges which they had enjoyed from time immemorial— when they acted in this praiseworthy way, by surrendering up not only their patronage, but their revenues for the public good, he was convinced, he said, that Parliament would be unanimous in thinking that no better application could be made of the national funds than providing, where necessary, additional religious instruction for the people. He should not enter further into the details of the Report; but when it was laid before the House, hon. Gentlemen would have an ample opportunity of considering those details and the several alterations which the Commissioners proposed to make. He need hardly observe that the members of the Commission were unanimous in recommending this Report, and he therefore trusted and hoped that the subject to which it referred would be discussed in the same amicable spirit by Parliament that it had been by the Commissioners.

Sir Robert Inglis

said, that, however much he respected and admired some of the members of the Commission, the Report of which the noble Lord had just brought up—however highly he esteemed the right rev. Prelates who had signed that Report—he could not conceal from the House the deep regret which he felt at hearing such a plan proposed for adoption as that which the noble Lord just announced. For his part, he was bound to say, that he would not be a party to the reception of a Report, the tendency of which he believed in his conscience would be fatal to the best interests of the Church of which he was a member. He certainly should not differ from the noble Lord with respect to the appropriation of the surplus which this Report proposed; but he must deny the right—taking that word in its largest sense, but without questioning the legal power—of Parliament to deprive one class of the Clergy of any portion of their revenues for the purpose of distributing it among another. At all events, he should be no party to any such arrangement. If he understood the noble Lord rightly, it was intended that the incomes of the present occupants of existing sees, livings, and prebends, should not be disturbed; and, before he proceeded further, he wished to ask the noble Lord whether he was correct—whether this plan meant to protect the rights of the existing sees, livings, and prebends? [Lord John Russell answered in the affirmative.] Then he was to understand that no person in possession of a see, living, stall, or prebend, was to be affected in their income by the plan recommended by this report? [Lord John Russell: Unless with their own consent.] Unless with their own consent. His opinion was, that no such Commission ought ever to have been appointed; nor was his view of the matter at all changed because the members of it consisted of a number of eminent Prelates as well as of laymen. He did not think that the property of the Church was a subject which ought to be dealt with in this way; and, considering the peculiar constitution of that House— considering that a great portion of the Members of it did not belong to the Established Religion—he must protest against having so important a question referred to such a tribunal. He should not now enter into any discussion of the details of the plan, because he knew that this was not the proper occasion for the purpose; but he could not, at the same time, help slating that, however he might approve of the object to which the surplus was proposed to be applied, he doubted the justice of the measure itself, as much as he differed from many of the details of the plan.

Mr. Hume

thought, that the Commissioners had done not only themselves but the Church great credit by the manner in which they had executed the inquiry intrusted to them. That inquiry, however, should have been undertaken by the Church itself long ago. The only part of the plan on which he had any observation to make was that which related to pluralities; and no man, he thought, whose object really was to support the Church, could deny that such things should be done away with as speedily as possible. He was anxious they should consider how far retaining heads of colleges and schools with livings was advisable. He thought that it was not, and, as there was a surplus, it would be better, in his opinion, to attach incomes to such offices than to allow the parties to be paid for duties which they did not perform. This, he felt persuaded, would remove half the evils consequent upon the system of pluralities.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that they would do little justice to this most important subject if they were to enter into any discussion of it on that occasion. It was a subject far too important as regarded the highest interests of the country, and the Protestant religion, to be dealt with until they had the whole of the details of the plan before them, and could consider in what way they could best work out the great object of the Commission, which had in view the extension of religious instruction, either entirely or partially, throughout every district of the country. With this feeling he should have avoided addressing the House at the present moment, if it had not been that he was one of those who had advised the issuing of this Commission, and that it might therefore appear, if he remained silent, that he had departed from the principles which had influenced him while in office to concur in a measure for the adoption of a plan for extending religious instruction. The plan now proposed had been prepared by those who were best calculated to form a right judgment on such a subject—by the members of the Church itself, aided in the progress of their inquiries by those who, next to the right rev. Prelates, were most bound in duty to uphold the religion of the country—he meant the responsible advisers of the Crown. He had viewed the appointment of the Commission as absolutely essential to the welfare of the increased population of the country, because he knew the difficulty of obtaining proper religious instruction in many parts to be very great. In all directions the demand for religious instruction was very pressing, and the object of appointing a Commission was to ascertain how that instruction could be most efficiently imparted. This could only be done by a general revision of the state of the Church, beginning with the highest dignitaries and ending with the parochial Clergy, and adapting their incomes to the altered circumstances of the country. He should, therefore, he was ready to confess, go into the consideration of the various provisions of the plan to be founded on this Report with a sincere desire to give it the effect which he should think best calculated to produce the result which they all so much desired; and he doubted not that if the matter were pursued with that which should be the wish of all parties—a determination to promote the interests of the Protestant Religion—the result to which they must come, founded, of course, on this Report, would not only give general satisfaction, but conduce to the best interests of the Church itself.

Doctor Lushington

expressed the satisfaction which he felt at hearing such a plan as that which these Commissioners had recommended. So far from taking any exceptions to that plan, he was bound to say, that it exceeded any expectation which he had formed on the subject, and all he hoped was, that the scruples of the hon. Baronet, the Member for Oxford, should not disturb the unanimity which prevailed respecting the reform in the Church now proposed. Of the leading principles of this plan they must all approve, because every sixpence of the ecclesiastical reve- nues was to be appropriated to the use of the Church, and the sole alteration proposed to be made was in the distribution of those revenues. A greater advantage could not be bestowed on the Church Establishment. Whatever the sentiments were which he entertained respecting the Church of another country, he had always held, and continued to hold, that the Established Church of England had not a sixpence of revenue more than was adequate to the furtherance of the objects which that Church had in view. Now, if he understood the statement of his noble Friend, the surplus of the incomes of the Bishops, which were considered extravagant, was to be applied in the augmentation of smaller sees, the emoluments of which were utterly inadequate to sustain those Prelates by whom the duties of them were discharged. No one could doubt that the incomes of the Bishop of Llandaff and the Bishop of Oxford were insufficient to maintain the dignity of their stations, or to enable those light rev. Prelates to diffuse that charity which never appeared brighter than when proceeding from such hands. He was glad, however, that they meant to uphold the three great Sees as objects of ecclesiastical ambition, and to render the emoluments of the others adequate to the duties to be performed; but he must, at the same time, express his deep regret, that the hon. Baronet, the Member for Oxford, should believe that any tribunal, not even Parliament, had a right to deal with Church property. The next part of the plan to which he should advert was that which related to Deans and Chapters. He did not wish to say, that Deans and Chapters had produced no good—that they had not contributed to the advantage of religion, or promoted the literature and erudition of the country; but he did mean to say, that the benefits which had been derived from them, were by no means commensurate with the extent of the revenue which they received. He rejoiced to find, that the Commissioners did not propose to desecrate cathedrals and abolish sees, but that both were to be maintained in their integrity, although under somewhat different circumstances. It was impossible not to perceive the advantage of this arrangement. From the first hour of his being an Ecclesiastical Commissioner—from the first moment he entered upon the consideration of the state of the Church—he urged on the Arch- bishops and Bishops with whom he was connected, the absolute necessity of upholding the office of Archdeacon, and giving to the clergyman holding that preferment a revenue sufficient to enable him to perform the great and important duties attached to the office. The House must be aware the Archdeacon was frequently called upon to make a circuit or tour among the parochial clergy. The whole emoluments of the Archdeacon of Lincoln he knew to be no more than 1801. a-year; and as they must all admit, that such an amount was wholly inadequate to the duties to be performed, he for one should be glad to see a portion of the surplus applied to the augmentation of the incomes of the clergymen who tilled this station. The office of Archdeacon was a highly important one; and, therefore, it was right, that the party occupying it should have no excuse for not discharging the duties of it properly. The last point to which he would advert was that which related to residence and pluralities. No one, he believed, who had considered the subject could, for a moment, doubt that it was most desirable, as far as practicable, to enforce residence, and do away with pluralities. The abolition of pluralities, however, formed a question of some difficulty, and could only be considered with reference to the existing state of the revenues of the Church. When he said this, he hoped it would not be supposed that he was not the advocate for the abolition of pluralities; on the contrary, he was anxious to see them done away with as speedily as possible, but not before proper inquiries on the subject had been made, and effectual means taken for insuring the adequate cure of souls in every case, without the necessity of annexing to livings the incomes of which were small other benefices, in order that qualified persons might be induced to hold them. He knew of several instances in which such livings had been rejected; and it was, therefore, important that some plan should be devised to obviate the difficulty before they proceeded to abolish pluralities. He could not conclude his observations without congratulating the House and the country on the prospect they had of seeing the abuses of the Church satisfactorily remedied. The measure was in its nature so remedial that it would finally lead to the abolition of pluralities; and so convinced was he that the plan announced by his noble Friend would tend to the safely and protection of the Church—would secure it against the attacks to which otherwise it was likely to be exposed—that it should have his best support, because; if carried into execution, he fully believed it would not only ensure the prosperity of the Church, but establish it on a basis the most permanent and enduring.

Mr. Granville Vernon

observed, that the subject of pluralities was one respecting which very great error existed, as the evil was by no means so extensive as was generally supposed. The hon. Baronet, the Member for Oxford, and the hon. Member for Middlesex seemed to attribute to the Church a power which did not belong to it. The Church had no power whatever to interfere in the distribution of its revenues, and this he had reason to know from a proposition which a venerable relative of his had made on the subject to the head of a former Government. He, however, was prepared to give his candid attention to the plan recommended by the Commissioners, and to carry out their views as far as he thought they ought to be carried out.

The Report was agreed to, and ordered to be printed.