HC Deb 17 February 1840 vol 52 cc338-43
Mr. Baines

said he wished to bring under the consideration of the House a subject involving the interests and the public estimation of one of the most numerous and important orders of men in the State. And as the object that he sought to attain was a great practical reform, by the removal of a grievance which had existed in one of our principal public institutions ever since the Reformation, he ventured to claim from the House its patient attention. That object was a competent maintenance for the poor clergy, to be effected by a more equitable distribution of the revenues of the richest ecclesiastical establishment in the world, and of which they were the most efficient ministers. On several former occasions he had urged the claims of the poor clergy in that House, and asked for them that support which it was intended to afford them by Queen Anne's Bounty; but of which, as he conceived, they had hitherto been unjustly deprived. When had he last the honour to make this motion, which was for a committee of the whole House, to take into consideration the propriety of abolishing the first-fruits of the clergy, and making the real tenths conducive to the more efficient augmentation of the maintenance of the poor clergy, he had been so fortunate as to carry his motion by a majority of two to one; and he hoped, that the arguments he had now to adduce would secure to the cause he advocated equal and ultimate success. He had then entered at some length upon the historical details of the first-fruits and tenths, but it would be sufficient now to say, as the subject was better understood, that these were ancient imposts paid by the clergy—as ancient. he believed, as the formation of parishes in England—and the payments had, from the Conquest to the Restoration, been generally upon the real and true amount of the sees and benefices. At the Reformation, Henry the 8th, having determined, that the first-fruits and tenths should be paid into the public Exchequer, caused a strict valuation to be made of all the livings in England and Wales, and this valuation was recorded in the King's book, usually called the Liber Regis. He also caused an Act of Parliament to be passed (the 26th Henry the 8th), by which it was provided, that every bishop, dignitary, and beneficed clergyman should pay the whole of his first-fruits and tenths into offices appointed for the purpose; and that any person who neglected to make such payment should be considered as an intruder into his living, that he should be subject to expulsion, and that he should pay as a penalty double the amount of the sum he had withheld. In this way the payments were made till the time of Queen Anne, when her Majesty, moved by Bishop Burnett, determined to alienate the payments from the Crown, and to appropriate the produce of the taxes, fruits, and tenths to the augmentation of the livings of the poor clergy, and a charter of incorporation was granted to a dignified body of men under the designation of the "Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty." Loud and general were the eulogiums pronounced upon the Queen for this act of royal munificence. Addresses flowed in from all parts of the kingdom; but the clergy were amongst the most prominent in their expressions of gratitude. He (Mr. Baines) held in his hand a memorable address passed and presented upon that occasion; it was from the archbishop, bishops, and clergy of the province of Canterbury, assembled in Convocation on the 15th of February, 1704, and was in these terms:— We, the archbishop and bishops of the Church of England, together with the clergy, do most humbly beg leave to express the great and deep sense that we have of your Majesty's most tender compassion for the poor clergy of this Church, who have hardly wherewith to support themselves in the exercise of their ministry, and of your Majesty's gracious intentions, even by bestowing your own revenue to make a provision for them, in such a manner as you were pleased to declare in your Majesty's late message to the House of Commons. We cannot be thankful enough for so singular a blessing as we enjoy in a Queen who has recommended our holy religion to her subjects by the great example she has set them, and particularly by such signal instances of piety and charity as not only render her the joy and delight of all true Christians of this age, but leave those effects behind them for which her Majesty will be blessed in all succeeding generations. The province of York, emulating the example of the metropolitan see, also addressed her Majesty, and their address, which he also held in his hand, expressed in still more pointed terms their gratitude and admiration of the Queen's conduct and bounty. They said, among other things, that her Majesty had removed the great, if not the only blemish of the Reformation, by making a competent provision for the poor clergy, and they declared, that her pious and charitable example would be highly acceptable to God; that it would have its effect upon all her subjects, and especially upon the clergy. As a further proof of the high expectations that were raised by the Queen's bounty, he might mention the distinguished persons who were appointed governors of the fund. These were the whole Bench of Bishops, the Speaker of the House of Commons, her Majesty's Privy Councillors, the Lords-lieutenant of Counties in England and Wales, the deans of the several cathedral churches in England and Wales, all the judges, the chancellors and vice-chancellors of the two Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the lord mayor and aldermen of the city of London, &c, To show how deplorably those sanguine expectations were blighted, he might mention the amount of the receipts and expenditure of the fund of Queen Anne's Bounty during the year 1838, which he took from a Parliamentary paper just issued, and which exhibited the following results:—

Receipts from the bishops, dignitaries, and beneficed clergy in England and Wales, in the year 1838, late Queen Anne's Bounty Fund, and charges upon the fund during the same period. From Parliamentary papers:—

As First Fruits and Tenths £13,579
Paid for salaries, fees, rent of offices, and taxes. 6,346
To be divided amongst the poor clergy, amounting to from 7 to 8,000, being about twenty shillings each, if distributed to the whole number £7,233

But the House would inquire how so fair a promise of competency for the poor clergy came to be so woefully disappointed? The answer was this—the Bounty Act contained a clause which had been perverted, so as to make the payments nominal instead of real, and to confine them to the valuation of King Henry 8th., instead of giving to the poor clergy, as to the rich clergy, the benefit of continually increasing value of sees and livings. The passage in the 2nd and 3rd of the act of Anne, cap. 11, which had defeated the just expectations of the sovereign, and consigned so large a portion of the clergy to poverty, was in the last section of that act, which was in reality only intended, as the title of the clause showed, to allow the clergy to give one bond for the payment of their first-fruits, instead of four as had hitherto been the practice. The clause ran thus:— And whereas four bonds for four half-yearly payments of the first fruits, as the same are rated, have been required and taken from the clergy, to their great and unnecessary burden and grievance; for remedy thereof, be it enacted, that from and after the 25th of March, 1704, one bond only shall in such case be given or required for the four-payments of the said first-fruits, which said first-fruits, as well as the tenths payable by the clergy, shall hereafter be answered and paid by them according to such rates and proportions only as the same have heretofore been usually rated and paid.

It had been contended, that the words "the same rates and proportions," only meant the same value, and that as the clergy had hitherto paid the first-fruits and tenths upon the valuation made in the reign of Henry 8th., that they were in all future times to continue to pay upon the same valuation, however much the livings might increase or decrease in value. But this supposition was directly at variance with the act of Henry 8th., which provided that fair valuations should be made from time to time to prevent those livings that increased in amount from paying too little, and those that diminished in amount from paying too much. [Hear] He (Mr. Baines) would undertake to prove, that the construction attempted to be put on the disputed words by rendering the valuation permanent and unalterable, could not be sustained. Suppose the case of a living returned in the Liber Regis at the value of 500l. a-year, but reduced to 100l. The account would stand thus at the end of an incumbency often years:—

Ten years' income at £100 a-year £1,000
Payment for first fruits £500
For tenths, being 50l. a-year 450 950
Total amount for ten years' maintenance of bishop or rector, being 5l. a-year £50
The hon. Gentleman proceeded next to show how great was the difference between the real first-fruits and tenths, and the sum actually paid into Queen Anne's Bounty Fund; and he instanced the living of Lambeth. This rectory was returned in the Liber Regis, on which the first-fruits and tenths were paid, as of the value of 32l. a-year; the tenths being 3l. 4s. yearly, but the actual value, as returned to the Ecclesiastic Commissioners by the present rector, was 2,277l.; and the account stood thus:—
Real amount of first-fruits £2,277 0
Of tenths 227 X 9 2,043 0
£4,320 0
Sum paid as first-fruits £32 0 as tenths £3 4s. X 9 28 16 60 16
Difference in one living on an incumbency of ten years, to the disadvantage of the poor clergy £4,259 4
This was by no means a singular nor an exaggerated case: such instances were extremely numerous, as he should show in the observations that he should have the honour to address to the House. He should not, however, rely upon his own opinion in a matter of this consequence, but refer to high legal authority. Lord Chancellor Eldon, though he was not in favour of the higher orders of the clergy paying the first fruits and tenths to the full amount, admitted, in his speech upon this subject in the House of Lords, that the words "according to such rates and proportions only as the same have heretofore usually been rated and paid," referred not to the value of the livings remaining the same, but to the rates and proportions to be paid on the whole value. That was the whole question. If the words did not imply an unaltered value, they did not bear out the construction that on a former debate in that House had been put upon them by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge, or by the late Solicitor-general. But he (Mr. Baines) should proceed to show by high legal authority, as well as upon the principles of justice and common sense, that there was no legal impediment in the way of the first-fruits and tenths being paid upon the real value, and he might mention an act of Parliament passed in the first year of the reign of George 1st., c. 10, which enacted and required the bishops, who were the acting and the real governors of Queen Anne's Bounty Fund, to make are-valuation of the ecclesiastical livings in England and Wales, on their improved value, for the benefit of the poor clergy. Why that object had not been carried into effect, he would not pretend to say—but he would proceed to quote the legal authorities to which he had referred, to show that these ancient imposts ought to have been paid, and ought now to be paid, on their full value. He should first quote the authority of the late Mr. Agar, one of her Majesty's counsel.

Mr. Plumptre

said, that this was a subject of too much importance to be discussed in so thin a House, and he moved that the House be counted.—House counted out.