HC Deb 01 August 1842 vol 65 cc924-33
Sir J. Graham

moved the further consideration of the report of the Ecclesiastical Corporations Leasing (No. 2) Bill.

Mr. Vernon. Smith

was aware that to oppose a motion for a recommitment of a bill like the present at that perion of the Session was equivalent to getting rid of it for the present year, but if, in the present instance, this should be the case, he would take the responsibility and consequences on himself. He trusted that he should be able to convince the right hon. Baronet St the head of the Government that it would be advisable to postpone this measure until next Session. He would remind the House that was not the bill of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department, who now had the charge of it. but it was the bill of the Bishop of London, and he certainly should treat the measure with all the respect due to that right rev. Prelate, knowing as he did his talents and business-like habits. He believed that the bill passed through the House of Lords without discussion; at least, he could find no record of any thing of the kind in the ordinary channels of information. The bill also might have passed through that House probably without observation, had it not attracted the attention of the Speaker or some other competent authority, who pointed out that a measure of the kind could not originate in the other House. To remedy this the right hon. Member for Dorchester introduced this bill with the view of getting rid of the difficulty in point of warm. This bill had passed through two or three of its stages, when his attention was attracted to it in consequence of the interest which he took in the subject of Church-leases, and he had intimated his intention to object to the further progress of the bill in its present form. The right hon. Gentleman had postponed the measure from day to day, and he had to thank the right hon. Baronet for his courtesy in consulting his convenience on the subject. The House would remember that the subject of Church-leases was one that excited a great deal of attention. In 1837, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed that there should be a new arrangement of Church-leases, with the view of making provision to get rid of the question of Church-rates. The resolution which was proposed on the subject was carried by such a very small majority that the Chancellor of the Exchequer was induced to submit the question to a committee to inquire into the entire subject. The committee was appointed, and after a certain period, which was devoted to the careful investigation of the subject, it made a report, and laid on the Table the evidence which it had taken, and which extended to a very considerable length. The report of the committee concluded with five resolutions, or rather recommendations, which he would read to the House. The committee recommended.

  1. "1. The abolition of the injurious system 926 of fines upon leases for lives, and also upon leases for terms.
  2. " 2. The substitution of a fee simple, for a leasehold, tenure, throughout the property of the Church.
  3. " 3. An act to provide for the conversion of Church leasehold into fee-simple, commonly called enfranchisement.
  4. " 4. The customary confidence of renewal by the lessee to be considered according to local circumstances, by the authorities established under this act, in the principles of enfranchisement laid down by them.
  5. " 5. The interests of the Church, present as well as future, to be provided for by a combined system of money payments and corn rent-charges."
These recommendations could very easily be understood, and the obvious purport of them was, that if by the improved management of Church-leases suggested any surplus should arise, it should be devoted to such purposes as might be deemed calculated to promote the public interest and the interest of the Church. The House would recollect that the present Chancellor of the Exchequer proposed an amendment to the resolution that any surplus that should arise should be devoted to the payment of Church-rates, to the following effect:—with the view of applying such amount to the gradual diminution of the evils which flow from the deficiency in the means of religious instruction and pastoral superintendence by ministers of the Established Church. This amendment was negatived by a majority of 295 to 267. This state of things showed that the large party now in power considered that all sums derived from such improvements as were contemplated under the improved management should be devoted to strictly Church purposes. His reason for now proposing the re-commitment of this bill was, that it did not fulfil the intentions of the proposition made as an amendment by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1837. In the first place he would allude to the ecclesiastical corporation sole. These had already been dealt with by the 6th and 7th William 4th. That act referred to the constitution of ecclesiastical corporations sole, such as bishoprics. It was settled, by the first section of the act, that certain sums should be paid out of the revenue of the several bishoprics, to the ecclesiastical commissioners, and that the remainder should be appropriated to the bishop of each diocese. The act implied, that each bishop should be allowed a certain amount, not exceeding a fixed sum; and that the remainder of the revenue of each bishopric should not exceed a certain sum. The act, however, did not make provision for the future constitution of the revenue of the several bishoprics, or for such improvements that might be made in them as were contemplated by this bill. Another bill to which he wished to allude, referred to the ecclesiastical corporations aggregate—such, for instance, as deans, and canons, and prebends. This act referring to canons and prebends—namely, the 2nd and 3rd of Victoria, provided, that the revenues of all such offices should be invested under the commissioners, and provision was also made for the abolition of several such offices, and for the apportioning the revenue of the remainder. The surplus revenue so provided also was to be devoted to the augmentation of small livings. He did not see, however, under these acts, how a future increase of incomes, derived either under corporations sole or aggregate, could be invested in the hands of the commissioners. There was no allusion made in either of these acts. as to dealing with such an increase of income as was contemplated under this act, therefore the commissioners could have no possible control over it. The bill would enable corporations sole and aggregate to grant leases for ninety-nine years; and, under its operations, both bishops, as well as canons and prebendaries, would receive a much larger sum than was contemplated by the act of 3rd and 4th Victoria. In the first section it was provided, that ecclesiastical and spiritual corporations should be empowered to grant building leases; and after the general enactment came a remarkable provision, which referred to the surrender of existing leases, as if this was a mere matter of bargain between the existing lessor and lessee. In the fifth clause there was a confirmation of this provision; and in the ninth clause, there was a much stronger confirmation of it, and of any bargain that might be made between the lessor and the lessee. Was it not clear, then, that the existing lessee would be greatly benefitted, and that a portion of the revenue of these ecclesiastical corporations would be devoted to other purposes than those proposed by the present Chancellor of the Exchequer in his amendment to the resolution of Lord Monteagle in 1837? There were some other clauses in the bill which he should feel called upon to comment on if the House allowed the bill to be re-committed. He would also shew, that it was just possible that some corporations sole would be dealing with lessees with the view of only bettering themselves for the present time, without looking to the ultimate interests of the Church. On this point, he would refer to a striking case which had been referred to by his noble Friend, the Member for the city of London, and the truth of which he believed had never been denied. His noble Friend said:— I will refer only to one case, and that probably, may receive an explanation. The case occurred in 1765, when the Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral of St. Paul's conveyed away certain church property in the manor of Finsbury. It appears, that the Corporation of Condon being desirous to acquire certain property in Finsbury, obtained the sanction of Parliament, and, in consequence, a lease of sixteen years was cancelled, with the consent of the Bishop of Condon, into a lease for ninety-nine years, the moiety of income of the property to go to the corporation, the other moiety to Dr. Wilson for life, and at his death two-thirds to go to his heirs; the consequence of which was, that only one-sixth went to the church, and the other five-sixths to the city and Dr. Wilson's heirs. Thus, it appears, that five-sixths of the estate were alienated, and only one-sixth left to the church. Now he feared that some such proceedings would take place under this bill. He might be told, that there was some check on improper bargains being made respecting the granting of leases. Now, the check that he found in the bill was, that consent for the validity of a lease must be obtained from the governors of Queen Anne's bounty.

Sir J. Graham

said, that it would perhaps be convenient if he at once stated that he intended to propose that this control should be given, not to the governors of Queen Anne's bounty, but to the ecclesiastical commissioners.

Mr. Vernon Smith

thought, that this was a most important alteration in the bill, and made an important change and improvement in the whole of the provisions of the bill. In saying this, however, he must add that the best mode of arrangement could not be secured by the change proposed by the right hon. Baronet. He believed that the new scheme of arrangement proposed under the act of the 6th and 7th Will. 4th, would come into operation next year, and he must say that the new arrangement proposed under this bill would materially interfere with it. He would only press on the right hon. Baronet to postpone the consideration of this bill until next Session, and he did so in consequence of the circumstances under which they then stood. The hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford having given notice at the early part of the Session of a motion on the subject of Church Extension, he was induced to abandon his motion within the last fortnight in consequence of the declaration of the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government, who promised that he would give the subject his consideration, and would communicate his views on the subject at the early part of he net Session. Now, as he was a party to bringing forward the proposition of 1837 for improving Church property with the view to the abolition of Church-rates, and as in the present state of parties and of that House there was no chance of carrying that plan into effect, he was extremely anxious that this increased revenue, or funds derived from the improved management of Church property —he was extremely anxious that all funds so obtained should be devoted in conformity with the proposition of the present Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1837, which he had already read to the House. He did not wish the revenues of bishops, and deans, and chapters, which had been settled by Act of Parliament to be disturbed; and he confessed that he was as anxious as any one to promote the augmentation of small livings, and the erection of churches where necessary. He would recommend that the bill should he postponed until next year, and in the mean time investigations should take place to see whether the increased funds which would be derived under a bill like the present should not be devoted to the promotion of the objects of the resolution of the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge. [Sir R. Peel: " Such an object would be incompatible with the present bill."] The right hon. Gentleman must excuse him for saying, that if he entertained such an opinion he hardly could have attended to the bill at all. It would be found that no provision had been made for augmentation of revenue that was derivable from an improved mode of management. He felt assured that the right hon. Baronet could get plenty of funds for Church Extension from this source. He was most anxious that the attention of the right hon. Baronet should be called to the report and the evidence before the committee. The calculations on which the then Chancellor of the Exchequer founded his plan appeared on inquiry to be erroneous, and somewhat exaggerated. It appeared, however, after the strictest calculations, that Mr. Finlaison's calculations were perfectly accurate. That gentleman took the valuation of Church property in its wholeat 12,617,443l. The interest at 4 per cent. was 504.698l. The income received for fines by deans and chapters, 260,631l.; thus giving an annual surplus or perpetual annuity of 254,067l. According to the calculation made beware the committee of 1839, it appeared that the value of Church property was 14,186,183l.; interest, 567,447; renewals, 260,631l.; thus giving a surplus of of 306,816l. He invited the attention of the House to this sum of 306,816l., which it was proved might be derived from improved management of Church property. The effect of the bill under the notice of the House would he to part to a considerable degree with that revenue. It was worthy the attention of the Government to consider the question of the postponement of the measure upon that ground, and particularly as the operation of the bill this year was not more necessary than it had been for the last ten or fifteen years. He believed that since the time of Henry 8th, the Church had never been allowed to grant building leases as contemplated by the bill, except by particular acts and in particular cases. The improvement expected in the value of the lands to be leased under the new measure, should not, he contended, be carried on in the mode which the bill proposed; but, under a voluntary scheme between the lessors and lessees, a very large fund might be raised from the improved management of Church property. He urged upon the Government the impropriety of passing this bill during the absence of almost every hon. Member who had taken a part and an interest in the subject. It was a question which, if due time was allowed, might be settled to the mutual satisfaction of all parties; but the public would not be satisfied when called upon for funds for the purpose of Church Extension, did they find that a bill had been passed, the effect of which would be to prevent funds from being raised, which might otherwise be obtained by the judicious management of the property of the Church itself, and which might be applied to its extension and the promotion of its interests. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving that the further consideration of this bill be postponed until this day three months.

Sir J. Graham

said, that it was impossible to listen to the speech of the right hon. Gentleman without admitting that he had argued the question with great ability and fairness. The subject was in itself a very complicated and a very difficult one. He thought it would be expedient for him on this occasion to follow the course adopted by the right hon. Gentleman, and forbear from arguing the abstract question of the propriety of the alienation of the increased value to be given under the new system to Church lands, to purposes other than the uses of the Church itself. The right hon. Gentleman had stated that with respect to Church-rates, he should prefer seeing the expected increased amount of value appropriated to defray these rates, rather than assigned to any other use; but for the purposes of argument, he assumed that it was expedient to consider the increased value about to be given with reference to the strict ecclesiastical purpose of the augmenting of livings insufficiently endowed, and for the extension of the operation and utility of the Church. Now he was most anxious that any increased value to be given to Church property by this enactment, should be made available for the purposes contemplated by the right hon. Gentleman, and more especially set forth in the resolutions of the hon. Member for Oxford. He could not lose sight of the purposes of the motion of that hon. Baronet; and he had the strongest possible opinion, that until all legitimate modes of enhancing the value of Church property should be exhausted, the question did not fairly rise that the State should be called on to contribute to the funds of the Church. He was most anxious that all possible means should be made use of for raising money from the property of the Church itself for the promotion of the sacred purposes of the Church; and he believed that there was nothing in the bill before the House inconsistent with that principle; but, on the contrary, that it involved a step, and a considerable one, in what was generally admitted to be the right direction. The right hon. Gentleman had given an accurate description of the origin of the bill. It was introduced into the House of Lords by the Bishop of London, and he had undertaken its management in the House of Commons. The right hon. Gentleman had alluded to the Church-leases committee, but there was nothing in the five recommendations of that committee incompatible with the principles of the bill. It got rid of leases for lives, or at least it held out a strong inducement to substitute leases for ninety-nine years in lieu of leases for lives; and it also abolished fines on renewals. Now, was there anything in these objects inconsistent with the public interests viewed apart from those of the Church? He contended, that he would appeal to any hon. Member on the subject, whether the public had not the greatest interest in the substitution of leases of ninety-nine years, which gave them a certain fixed term, in lieu of renewal for lives? The public had the greatest possible interest in the improvement of Church lands, and he did not see any public interest which militated against the bill; on the contrary, he saw every advantage likely to flow to the public from its adoption. To return to the interests of the Church itself, apart from that of the public, the measure would be most advantageous to the Church, and would give to incumbents the greatest possible interest in improving the value of Church property. In former discussions upon this subject a case had been put—by the hon. Member for Bath, he believed —of the possibility of the operation of the bill, giving an opportunity to an incumbent of a corporation sole to appropriate the augmentation of the value of Church lands prospectively to his use and that of his successors. They were then told, that generally speaking, these incumbents were vicars in large towns; but he felt that it was possible, that from the operation of the bill, that over-endowed cures might be established in the heart of manufacturing towns and in dense populations, from the increased value given to Church lands. He fully felt the force of this argument, and it appeared to him necessary to take prohibitive steps against the occurrence of such a contingency. With that view he had framed a clause, with the consent of the heads of the Church, which he would introduce on the third reading, and which provided, that after the life of the present incumbent, where the population did not exceed 2,000 persons, the income of the incumbent should not exceed 600l. per annum; that where the population was not greater than 1,000 the income should not exceed 500l.; and, in cases where the population was still smaller, that the income should not exceed 300l. He could confidently recommend the bill to the House upon the very principles urged by the right hon. Gentleman opposite. He would always maintain the impropriety of applying Church funds to any other than Church purposes. He thought the bill to be compatible with this purpose, and he would introduce a clause to assimilate the footing on which the chapters stood throughout the country. The bill was intended to place at the disposal of the ecclesiastical commission, the largest possible amount of funds for the endowment of new livings, and for the augmentation of the incomes of the many, which were so shamefully insufficient.

Mr. Hawes

remarked upon the present change which had been made in some of the most objectionable portions of the bill by the alterations introduced. He wished to inquire whether any part of the increased value of Church property would be given by this bill, after the death of the present incumbents, to private parties, whether lay or ecclesiastical?

Sir James Graham

said, that the whole, without any exception, would be available to the general fund.

Mr. Henley

believed, that the holders of Church property were perfectly ignorant of what was preparing for them by this bill. He thought a measure affecting property to so great an extent ought not to be carried through at this period of the Session.

Mr. V. Smith

would not trouble the House to divide, but would wait to see the bill reprinted with the amendments.

Report brought up. Bill to be reprinted with the amendments, and to be read a third time.