HC Deb 28 February 1838 vol 41 cc273-83
Mr. Gally Knight

In rising to move that this Bill be committed, I cannot help regretting that the advocacy of the measure has not fallen into abler hands than mine and I assure the House that I should no have put myself forward on this occasion had any other hon. Member been disposed to take up the question. Sir, I took up this subject, and have gone on with it, with only one object—an anxious wish to obtain something more for the poor livings, which, on all hands, are admitted to be a just object of commiseration. This is no party question, and I trust will be discussed without any party feeling. In looking about for some source of aid to the poor livings—some source which could be made available without alarming the nerves of any one, it struck me that three boards for the management of the small sums through the help of which poor livings are augmented must be more than the necessity of the case could really demand, and that by reduction of the expenses of management an additional sum might be obtained for the augmentation of the poor livings. Under this impression I applied last Session for a Committee to inquire into the matter; that Committee went very fully and patiently into the subject, and there is nothing in this Bill which did not receive the unanimous sanction of that Committee. It will now be necessary for me, as shortly as possible, to explain to the House in what way the boards in question operate at present, and in what way it appeared to the Committee that the business which they transact could be best conducted in future. The boards in question—namely, the Board of First Fruits, the Board of Tenths, and the Corporation for the Management of Queen Anne's Bounty, are all three exclusively occupied in receiving the annual produce of First Fruits and Tenths, and in dealing it out, according to certain rules, in the augmentation of poor livings. It is unnecessary for me to remind the House that First Fruits and Tenths were originally demanded by and conceded to the Pope, and that on the Reformation First Fruits and Tenths were transferred to the Sovereign, as the Act says, "for more augmentation and maintenance of his imperial crown and dignity of supreme head of the Church of England." On this latter occasion a court of First Fruits and Tenths was established by Act of Parliament, which court was subsequently dissolved, and by the 1st of Elizabeth its duties were annexed to the Exchequer, of which the two existing Boards of First Fruits and Tenths are branches. These two boards are under the same chief officer, the remembrancer, but each board has its own receiver and its own clerks. As these boards were established to collect first fruits and tenths, it was indispensable to arm them with the power of enforcing the payment of arrears. For this purpose they are directed to apply to the Court of Exchequer for writs, and it is the peculiar duty of the remembrancer to attend to this part of the business. In order that the boards may exactly know what should be paid in to them in the course of every year, writs are annually addressed by the Exchequer to the bishops, requiring them twice a-year to make a return to the Board of First Fruits of all the institutions to benefices which may have taken place within the preceding half-year in their respective dioceses. The clergy are considered to be so fully aware of their abilities, that they are expected to send in what can be demanded of them, on the score of first fruits and tenths, without any notice. First fruits are due within three months after institution, except the first fruits of bishops, who, on account of the largeness of the sum, and in consideration of the great expenses of taking possession, are allowed to liquidate the debt in four equal yearly payments. Tenths become due at Christmas, but are not exacted till the end of April. If the end of April arrives and the tenths are not paid, it becomes the duty of the Board of Tenths to address a notice to such incumbents as may be in default. If this notice does not bring the money before the 1st of June, it becomes the duty of the board to send a second notice; and if the second notice does not bring the money by the last day of June, the name of the defaulter is placed on what is called the non-solvent roll; any time after which the remembrancer may apply to the Court of Exchequer for a writ to compel payment. Each process subjects the defaulter to additional costs and fees. It is proper to add, that on the death of an incumbent, the Exchequer is empowered to recover arrears of tenths, not only from the executors and administrators of the last incumbent, but even from his successor. Arrears of First Fruits are recoverable from the last incumbent's heirs and executors, but not from his successor. Such is the construction, and such are the duties, of the two Boards of First Fruits and Tenths. The third board, that of Queen Anne's Bounty, was brought into existence by the 2d and 3d of Anne, when that princess gave up the proceeds of First Fruits and Tenths, on the part of herself and her successors, and assigned them for ever to the augmentation of small livings. On this occasion Queen Anne, by letters patent, erected a corporation, who were authorised to receive from the Exchequer the whole revenue arising from First Fruits and Tenths, and to apply them to the augmentation of small livings. The corporation was very numerous. It consisted of the Lord High Chancellor, the archbishops, the great officers of the household, the bishops and deans, all privy councillors, the lords-lieutenant of all counties, &c. The Mayor and Aldermen of London, and the mayors of all the cities in England, they and their successors, were to have a perpetual jurisdiction. They were to hold at least four general courts in every year, of each of which notice was directed to be given in the Gazette fourteen days before the holding of the same. In the first instance, it was declared that no board should be legal at which a bishop, a judge, and a privy councillor were not present. Subsequently this stipulation was withdrawn, and it was provided, that any one of the above description, together with every six other governors, should be a quorum. Rules were in the first instance laid down for the government of this board, but it was afterwards provided that, with the authority of the sign manual, the rules might be altered, or new rules introduced, as occasion might require. The superior officers or governors of this board, the Board of Queen Anne's Bounty, were and are purely honorary. They receive no remuneration in any shape for their labours. The executive part of the board was to consist of a salaried secretary and treasurer, with as many clerks as might be necessary. These officers were to be paid out of the funds of the bounty. When this new board was established, two original boards of First Fruits and Tenths were left. The only alteration introduced, was that the expenses of the Board of Tenths should be paid out of the funds of the bounty. The Boards of First Fruits and Tenths continue to receive the dues as before; they transmit them to the Exchequer, which again transmits them, as it receives them, to the bounty, which applies them to the augmentation of the poor livings. I should mention, that for the last century the government of the bounty has been almost exclusively exercised by the bishops. The business appears to have imperceptibly fallen into the hands of those who are more immediately connected with it; of late it has not been the custom to give notice in the Gazette of the days on which the boards are held. But any governor who desires to be summoned receives a notice. Such a wish was recently expressed by the Lord Mayor and aldermen of London, who were summoned accordingly. About fifteen boards were usually held in the course of every year. I have now explained, as succinctly as possible, the actual state and the duties of the three boards in question. The Committee appointed by the House to inquire into the constitution of the three boards in question, went very fully into the matter, and examined several witnesses, and unanimously came to the opinion—an opinion probably already formed by the House—that the machinery is more vast and more complicated than the business transacted requires; and that not only might a further sum be obtained for the poor livings by the reduction of the machinery, but that the business itself would, by the adoption of such a measure, be better conducted. Of the amount of labour which the Boards of First Fruits and Tenths have to perform, the House may form a judgment when I state that at these boards the official hours are only from ten till two, and that all red-letter days are holidays; that the remembrancer, the chief officer who superintend; both these boards, resides in Somerset-shire; that the receiver of the Board of First Fruits and arrears of Tenths hold two other situations under Government and transacts the business of Craven-street at Whitehall; and that the late receive of the Board of Tenths had only been a his office four times in eight years. It is evident, therefore, that these boards have little to do, and that little has not always been done well. It is neither my wish nor my intention to find fault with any one. The defects, which the Committee could not but remark, are defects in the system; wherever there is very little to do principals will not attend with assiduity and wherever principals are not present abuses will creep in: but I am bound to state that in their transactions with the two boards the clergy have not always been kindly or fairly dealt by, that notices which they should have received have been withheld, with no other very obvious object but that of increasing the fees; and when it is recollected that when a defaulter's name is once on the nonsolvent roll, it is optional with the remembrancer when to apply to the Exchequer for the writ, and that for arrears of tenths the successor of an incumbent is liable as well as his heirs and executors, it becomes apparent how much hardship might be caused by a want of regularity in this matter; and that irregularity sometimes has taken place is proved by the circumstance that, in the case of the vicars choral of Salisbury, ten years elapsed before the claim was urged. Independent of these irregularities, evil and inconvenience necessarily arise from the complicated nature of so many boards. Their duties are confused, their transactions useless and multiplied, and not easily traced; business is obstructed by reference from one board to the other, and if a complaint is made, it is easy for one board to represent that the other is in fault. The Committee, therefore, came to the opinion that, as the Boards of First Fruits and Tenths are at present constituted, a large sum is most unprofitably diverted from the augmentation of the poor livings, and they unanimously came to the opinion that the best way would be to abolish the two Boards of First Fruits and Tenths, and place the whole concern in the hands of the Board of Queen Anne's Bounty. The money gets at last where it was meant to arrive, where it must arrive, to accomplish its destination, into the hands of the governors of Queen Anne's Bounty, and what is the advantage of its being sent, as it is at present, by a very circuitous route for no conceivable object, and losing not a little on the way? The corporation of Queen Anne's Bounty, with the addition of one or two clerks, would alone be fully equal to more than is at present transacted by the three boards, and the zeal and attention with which the governors had hitherto administered the affairs of the Bounty, afford just grounds for the persuasion that the direction of the whole may be safely intrusted to their hands. If before the year 1831 some proofs of insufficient vigilance are to be found in a loss sustained by the Bounty through the defalcation of a former treasurer, yet ample amends have been made by the acting-governors, who since that time have devoted, and still devote, a portion of their incomes to replacing the whole of the deficit. Since that time fresh precautions have been taken, and checks introduced, which appear to be sufficient, and it must not be forgotten, that by the gratuitous services of the present governors, a considerable sum is left for the objects of the Bounty, which the management of the funds would otherwise abstract. The annual amount of the salaries of the officers of the two Boards, which it is proposed to abolish, is 2,022l. 18s. 11d., a large sum when compared with the annual receipts, which average no more than 14,000l.; the whole of this, with the exception of the remuneration of the two clerks, whom it is proposed to transfer to the establishment of the bounty, would eventually be obtained for the poor livings. I say eventually, because whilst I desire to effect the improvement, I desire to effect it without prejudice to existing interests. The Bill, therefore, proposes that the two Boards of First Fruits and Tenths should be abolished, and their duties and powers be transferred to the Board of Queen Anne's Bounty. To effect the improvement without prejudice to existing interests, the Bill proposes, that the Governor of Queen Anne's Bounty should be authorized to make equitable compensation to all such officers of the abolished boards as shall not be transferred to the service of the bounty. The office of Remembrancer is a patent place—it was made a patent place for ever in the reign of Charles 2nd. It is a freehold, and has been repeatedly sold. It is, therefore, proposed by the Bill, that the freehold of the patent of the Remembrancer should be bought up by the governors of Queen Anne's Bounty, and that the fee on institutions to benefices, which now forms a part of the Remembrancer's profits, should in future become payable to the account of the bounty. There are a few more provisions in the Bill, of which I will only trouble the House with two. In order to obtain for the management of Queen Anne's Bounty the advantage of publicity, it is proposed, 1st, that once, in the early part of every year, on some convenient day, the Corporation of Queen Anne's Bounty should hold a general board, of which fourteen days' previous notice shall be given in the London Gazette; and 2d, that the Governors of Queen Anne's bounty shall annually present a return of their receipts and expenditure to the Queen in Council, to be annually laid before both Houses of Parliament. Five offices, three of which are nearly sinecures, will be abolished; and about, by the proposed alterations, 1,500l. a-year will eventually be obtained for the poor livings, whilst the operations connected with the receipt and expenditure of the First Fruits and Tenths will be carried on in a more regular and satisfactory manner. I am aware that the sum is very inadequate to the exigencies of the case, but 1,500l. a-year for ever is not a benefit entirely to be despised; and, at any rate, it is better that it should be obtained for the poor livings than that it should continue to be expended in an unprofitable manner. I do not seek to give to the measure which I am attempting to introduce a value beyond its due. I am aware that it is of no momentous importance, but still it is an improvement, and, as such, will I trust receive the approbation and support of the House. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving that the Speaker do leave the Chair.

Mr. Baines

did not rise to oppose the motion of his hon. Friend for going into a Committee. On the contrary, he was a decided friend to the Bill, which was intended to economise the profuse expenditure that had hitherto existed in the collection and distribution of the First Fruits and Tenths. Would the House believe it, that out of the miserable pittance of 13,500l. a-year collected from the dignified and beneficed clergy in England and Wales for the benefit of the poor clergy, amounting in number to many thousands, upwards of 5,000l. was expended every year in management before the First Fruits and Tenths reached those who ought to be benefited by the Fund. It was high time that such a system should be reformed; and if he had any complaint to make against his hon. Friend's Bill, it was, not that it went too far, but that it did not go far enough. The Select Committee on First Fruits and Tenths and Queen Anne's Bounty, of which his hon. Friend was the chairman, and of which he (Mr. Baines) was a member, recommended a much more extensive measure than this: their recommendation in their report was, that the Tenths should be paid in future upon a valuation approaching more nearly to their real amount than at present; and he would say, that even the Tenths, if fairly col- lected according to their original institution, would yield for the poor clergy 200,000l. a-year, instead of 13,500l., the sum produced by them at present. The difference was enormous; and he hoped that when he brought in the Bill of which he had given notice, he should have the support, not only of his hon. Friend, but of all the zealous supporters of the Church and of the clergy in the House, especially when it was considered that if the First Fruits and Tenths were collected now in their full value, as they were in the reign of Henry 8th, they would produce 500,000l. a-year. Nothing could be more important in any country than to uphold the station of the labouring clergy of all denominations, by raising them above penury in their circumstances; and as his Bill had this object, he hoped that it would, when brought forward, secure the support of both sides of the House. It might seem singular that he, not being a member of the Establishment, should take up a measure of this nature; but his reason was that, though the evil of which he complained had existed for ages, no person connected with the Church had ventured to grapple with the difficulty, and even his hon. Friend, the Member for Nottinghamshire, had shrunk from following up the recommendation of his own Committee. He was not inclined to censure his hon. Friend for having pursued this course; he was rather disposed to consider it as an act of courtesy to himself, and as proceeding from a wish to allow him to prosecute a measure through Parliament that he had taken up before the First Fruits' Committee was moved by his hon. Friend. He had only further to say, that he had some amendments to propose upon the Bill now before the House when it came into Committee, the principal of which were to facilitate the searches at the Bounty-office, to restore the governorship of Queen Anne's Bounty to its original mixed character of lay and clerical, and to secure the economic settlement of all litigated questions by providing a summary means of securing the due observance of the provisions of the Bill when it had passed into an Act.

The House went into Committee.

On Clause 12,

Mr. Baines

moved an additional paragraph, enacting that the Court of Governors of the Corporation of Queen Anne's Bounty should in future be held to be duly constituted and empowered to act only when one-half at least of the governors present were laymen. His object was to restore the court to its original form, and provide against the possibility of abuses.

Mr. Estcourt

objected to the addition, as invidious and as imputing improper motives to the ecclesiastical governors, who had always done their duty in a manner that deserved the thanks of the country.

Sir R. H. Inglis

also objected to the amendment. The number of laymen now qualified by law to act on the board was nearer 1,000 than 500.

Mr. Baines

could not think that the management had been so praiseworthy as was said, because it had not been economical, the cost of managing the income of the corporation being forty per cent. on the whole.

Mr. Goulburn

did not object to the board carrying on its business as at present. Any layman who wished to attend the board might easily do so by stating his intention to the secretary, who would send him a summons. He had had occasion to pay much attention to the subject; and he appealed to the learned Solicitor-General to know whether the board had any power under the Act to make a new valuation. He had taken the opinions of many eminent lawyers upon the subject, and they were all uniform in holding that the governors had no such power either in this country or in Ireland. It was, therefore, no imputation upon them not to have done what the law did not empower them to do. His opposition to the amendment was simply that it contained an imputation upon those who had hitherto been intrusted with the management of the fund. He thought it hard to cast an imputation upon the governors, and interfere with the carrying on of the business, because persons entitled to attend did not take the trouble to put themselves in the way of being called upon. Any gentleman sending his address to the secretary would be sure to receive a summons, but it would be a waste of time and trouble to require the secretary to send notices to three or four hundred persons whose residences were not known.

Mr. Hume

thought, that nothing could be more reasonable than to direct the officer whose duty it was to send summonses to every member of the board.

The Solicitor-General

agreed with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Goulburn) that however expedient it might be to have a new valuation, neither the Board of First Fruits nor of Queen Anne's Bounty had the power under the Act to make a valuation.

Sir M. Wood

could state to the House, that the moment the aldermen knew that they were governors of the board they began to attend. It was a long time, however, before the fact became generally known.

Mr. Baines

had no objection to the clause being taken into consideration on the report.

The other clauses were agreed to, with amendments.

Report to be received.