HC Deb 16 July 1844 vol 76 cc978-86
Mr. E. Denison

rose to move for an ac- count in detail of sums received and expended by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for England. A return had been made, on the Motion of the hon. Member for Montrose, but of so barren and jejune a nature that it was impossible to derive any information from it. At the same time, he found that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for Ireland had made a Return containing all the information that any one could wish. The right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Graham) had since stated to him that he would no longer object to the return of the particulars which he (Mr. E. Denison) wished to elicit; therefore it would not be necessary for him to lay any further grounds for his Motion; but, he must say, that he regretted some part of the course taken by the Commissioners, especially their determination to grant no renewals of leases for lives. They seemed to him in this to push to an extreme length the powers vested in them by Parliament, when they exercised them neither for enfranchisement nor renewal of leases, but, for the purpose of letting the leases run out, and taking possession of the land. This caused great hardship on individuals and large bodies of men. This mode of management was, he conceived, expressly opposed to the opinion of Parliament, as expressed by votes of the House of Commons and the Reports of Committees, and the Speeches of influential Members. When these Returns were presented, it was his intention to bring this subject before Parliament. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving— That there be laid before this House, a Return of all Payments made by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for England in each of the last six years;—

  1. "1. Of the salary, fees, and emoluments, paid to any counsel or solicitor, with the name of each counsel or solicitor so paid:
  2. "2. Of the salary, fees, travelling expenses, and emoluments paid to each architect, with the name of each, and the amount of per centage (if any) allowed to each:
  3. "3. Of the salary, fees, and emoluments, paid to each agent or surveyor employed, with the name of each, and the amount paid to each:
  4. "4. Of the payments made in each year, particularlizing what Sees have been augmented, for what Episcopal Residences house rent has been paid, what Episcopal Residences has been provided, and the cost of each; what Reversions have been sold, and for what amount; and what Estates have been pur- 980 chased, and for what amount, for any Episcopal See."

Mr. Elphinstone

said, it would probably be in the recollection of the House, that in 1835 the Ecclesiastical Commissioners had proposed that the Bishops should have certain fixed incomes; the Archbishop of Canterbury was to have 15,000l. a year; the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of London 10,000l. each, and the Bishop of Durham 8,000l. and so on. An Act was passed accordingly, the intention of Parliament being that the Bishops should receive those particular incomes from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners; but in consequence of an error in the Act, when the sums came to be fixed by order in Council under it, the Privy Council reversed this, and fixed the sums which should be paid over annually by the Bishops to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The consequence was, that the Bishop of Durham in one year, if he was not misinformed, had put into his own pocket 30,000l. As the Motion as it now stood would not ascertain the actual amount received annually by each of the Bishops, he begged to move the addition of these words, "also the total income of each of the Archbishops and Bishops of England and Ireland for each year since 1837." There would be no difficulty in making the Return, because, in point of fact, the Bishops had delivered the accounts to the Commissioners.

Sir J. Graham

said, the hon. Gentleman who made this Motion had referred in public to a private conversation he had with him (Sir J. Graham). For the public discussion of the subject of that conversation he (Sir J. Graham) was not prepared; the hon. Gentleman had done him the honour to speak with him on the subject; he stated to the hon. Gentleman the doubts he then felt as to acceding to the Motion, but he was not prepared to have this made public. He told the hon. Gentleman subsequently that the Government would not object to the returns; he found that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for Ireland had made returns of the character of those the hon. Gentleman desired to be made by the English Commissioners, and he then stated that, upon the whole, he should consent to the Motion. In doing so, however, he must declare that he could not consider the funds placed under the management of the Ecclesiasti- cal Commissioners were in any way under the control of Parliament; they were placed under the direction of a Commission, consisting principally of ecclesiastics, for the purposes of the Church, but not under the control of the State. He was sorry to see the hon. Gentleman was dissatisfied with the management of those funds by the Commissioners. The hon. Gentleman had signified his intention, when the Returns were produced, of calling the attention of the House to this subject; whenever the hon. Gentleman did so, he (Sir J. Graham) should be perfectly prepared on the part of the Commissioners to answer him, and to show that the principles adopted by the Commissioners in the management of Church property were equitable principles in themselves, and conducive to the interests of the body they represented. However, for those principles, be they what they might, the present Government were not responsible; they had been acted on since the commencement of the Commission; they were sound, in his opinion, and ought to be continued. With respect to the Motion of the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Elphinstone) he had not had time to consider it fully, but as at present advised he felt it his duty to resist it.

Mr. Hume

thought the right hon. Baronet could not resist if he recollected the Act of Parliament, which enacted, that after the deaths of the then Bishops no Bishop should receive more than the appointed incomes; yet the House had just heard that one Bishop who ought to receive only 8,000l. a year had received 30,000l. a year. Parliament never meant that should be the case, but as the statement had been made (he did not know with what degree of foundation), there ought to be laid before the House means of ascertaining the real state of the case.

Mr. V. Smith

said, that under the existing arrangement the surplus went to the Bishop after he had paid a certain sum to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. He thought that there must be a mistake as to the sum that had been stated to be received by one Bishop in a single year; but supposing that he had received 30,000l. in one year, the income would not be near so much the next, when he might have perhaps not more than 2,000l.; therefore, to speak of the income as 30,000l. a year was inadmissible.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

was understood to say that the hon. Gentleman was mistaken as to the intention of Parliament. It had never been intended to give the Bishops salaries, or deprive them of the management of their estates, but only to regulate the sums they should pay over from time to time to the Commissioners.

Mr. Gally Knight

said, that he did not rise to oppose the motion of his hon. Friend the Member for Malton; but as some slight censures had been put on the conduct, or the intentions, of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, he begged leave to observe that it was the bounden duty of those Commissioners to make the most of the property entrusted to their care, in order to increase their means of promoting that most important of all objects, the further provision of spiritual instruction. Nor could it be pretended that the Commissioners had exceeded their powers. For himself he was not jealous of the Commission—he liked it all the better because it was of a mixed nature, composed of laymen as well as spiritual persons. He was not one of those who considered the Church to be nothing but the priest; he considered the Church equally to consist of priest and people, and the more the Laity and the Clergy were mixed and blended together, and the less they were kept distinct, the better it would be for both parties. He must repeat that the Commissioners had not exceeded their powers, because it could not be denied that the Church, like any other landlord, possesses, and has never ceased to exercise, the power of running out leases. On this point he spoke with the more confidence, because he was a Member of the Committee which was appointed by that House in 1838, to investigate the subject of Church Leases, and he would take leave to read to the House the opinion which that Committee had pronounced on this part of the subject:—"Largely, therefore, as your Committee must suppose this confidence of renewal to have extended, yet your Committee consider the tenant's right of renewal to be a claim upon custom, and the good will of the lessor, rather than any right capable of being enforced by law or equity." At the same time, looking to the general usage of renewal, the Committee were of opinion that, though the legal right could not be maintained, yet that the customary confidence of the lessees should not be entirely disregarded; and in the scheme for the Enfranchisement of Church Leasehold Property which that Committee had recommended, a consideration of the claim of the lessees was one of its component parts. The same favourable consideration of the lessees was also insisted upon by the present Lord Monteagle when, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, in 1837, he brought forward a plan on the same subject, though with a different object. If, then, this principle had been admitted and recognized on every occasion when a settlement between the Church and the lessees had been proposed, he should have thought that it would have been admitted and adopted on all similar occasions; and he confessed that he did not see how it could be consistent with justice that a certain number of lessees should be dealt with in a more rigorous manner than the rest,—that because a man happened to hold a lease under a suppressed stall, he was to fare worse than another man who holds leasehold property under a stall that is not suppressed. It was well known that the property belonging to the Church had always been let much below its real value. In this, though he held such property himself, he saw neither reason or justice. He could not desire that any lessees of Church property should continue to hold their land on the same easy terms as before,—but he did think that, in the case of suppressed stalls, the lessees should have the option of either continuing to hold the land at its real value, or of being permitted to enfranchise it altogether on reasonable terms. He hoped that, long before this, a general measure of Enfranchisement for all Church leasehold property would have been brought forward by the Government, on the plan recommended by the Committee of 1838. The present system of fines upon leases for lives or for terms of years was bad for the lessors, not the best for the lessees, and injurious to the estate. By an equitable plan of enfranchisement, a very considerable sum might be obtained for the Church, and at the same time the lessees would be placed in a better position. He wished to see the Church in possession of that sum as a fund for the building and endowment of new churches; and he should be glad if, in the case of lessees under suppressed stalls, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners would adopt a plan similar to that which was recommended by the Committee of 1838, for the enfranchisement of the whole leasehold property of the Church. What, after the fullest enquiry, was considered to be fair for the whole, must be fair for a part.

Sir R. Peel

hoped, that no debate in this House would induce the Commissioners to take any other course than that which their sense of duty pointed out to them. He thought the Orders in Council were in themselves just, and that the discretion which the Commissioners had exercised was a wise discretion, and he hoped this House would not attempt to interfere. It was a very delicate matter. The great object was to promote the interest of the Church, the property of which appeared to him to have been greatly dilapidated by the system of granting leases. In some cases the existing interest was purchased, and in others the reversion was sold. In case of a sale the reversion the option of purchase had been given to the tenant. In many instances leases for lives had been converted into leases for years: but in all cases they had given the option of a lease for years to tenants who had a lease for lives. In his opinion, in the case of the suppressed canonries they were right in refusing a renewal of a lease for lives; he thought it was better to have a lease for years, reserving a fair rent. There might be particular cases in which it was right that the Church should get possession of its property. It might be so dilapidated or neglected, or the local position of the property might be such as to justify the Commissioners in departing from that which was the legal course. He trusted, therefore, that the House would leave the Commissioners to act according to circumstances, and that no debate here would induce the Commissioners to depart from what they considered to be their duty.

Mr. Liddell

said, that as Member for a county where an immense amount of property would shortly fall under the control of the Commissioners, he must say, that he was not without considerable apprehension for the interests of his constituents. The Dean and Chapter of Durham, as the House well knew, held a large amount of property in that county, and as it had been determined that one-half of the Chapter should be suppressed, and at the death of each Prebendary the property belonging to his prebend placed under the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, when he was told that they refused to renew leases—that the renewal of leases for three lives, which had been held for many hundred years to be as secure as any other tenure of property, would be refused on any terms, he could not but feel alarmed at this—he had almost called it—usurpation of property which had been so long held sacred. He could assure the House that great anxiety and apprehensions were entertained upon this subject. His constituents had a deep and specific interest in the matter, and he should not do his duty towards them if he were not to prepare them from his place in Parliament for the coming event. He had no doubt that the distinguished Members of the Ecclesiastical Commission would govern all their proceedings by a due regard to the principles of justice; but he hoped the House would also recollect that the rights of the lessees had been on a variety of occasions distinctly recognised. In the Southwark improvement Bill, for example, the principle had been very plainly and very unequivocally laid down by the Attorney General, that the lessees had a beneficial interest, and could not with any show of justice be deprived of it.

Dr. Bowring

observed, that the present was merely a Motion for statistical returns, and he trusted that there would be no objection to the addition which his hon. Friend had proposed. There could be no doubt that the income of the Bishop of Durham had in one year amounted to 30,000l., and it was equally true that they ought to have the facts of the matter fully before them.

Mr. Brotherton

had heard with great satisfaction the observations which fell from the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government. It had been said that the Liberal Members of that House were intent upon the ruin of the Church; but he would tell them that the pretended friends of the Church were the great spoliators—it was the laity who held leases that had the deepest interest in the matter—the landed interest wanted to have the property of the Church. The principle of which he approved was that laid down by the right hon. Baronet at the head of the Government—namely, that it was for the public interest to make the most of the property of the Church.

Mr. Liddell

, in explanation, said, that neither he nor any member of his family were holders of ecclesiastical leases—they did not hold a single acre of Church-land.

Mr. Wawn

said, that some of the greatest spoliators belonged to the Church.

Mr. E. Denison

said, he wished to say a few words before they proceeded to divide on the Amendment. He had had a conversation with the right hon. Secretary, when he inquired of him whether there would be any objection to the Return for which he then moved. The right hon. Secretary said he should consult his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government, and subsequently he said that he should not consent to the Return. Thereupon he (Mr. Denison) gave notice of the present Motion. If to state that occurrence were an improper use of a private conversation, he would ask how was it possible to hold communication with those who possessed the power to grant or withhold Returns of this nature? He would tell them why he made this Motion—it was because he desired that there should be frank and unreserved dealing with that House, and that no information should be kept from them. The right hon. Baronet himself had on a former occasion said, he had contended that though Church lessees possessed no legal right, they enjoyed an equitable right, founded upon long usage. But the principle which applied to those who held short and terminable leases did not apply when lands were transferred to those who had long and permanent interests. Those were the sentiments formerly expressed by the right hon. Baronet. It was well known, that the Commissioners had a long and permanent interest, and it was complained of now that they were taking the matter into their own hands.

The House divided on the question that the words proposed by Mr. Elphinston be added:—Ayes 27; Noes 55: Majority 28.

List of the AYES.
Bouverie, hon. E. P. Pechell, Capt.
Bowring, Dr. Plumridge, Capt.
Brotherton, J. Rawdon, Col.
Busfeild, W. Seymour, Lord
Forster, M. Smith, rt. hn. R. V.
Gill, T. Stock, Serj.
Hallyburton, Lord G. Talbot, C. R. M.
Hawes, B. Thornely, T.
Hill, Lord M. Tufnell, H.
Lowther, hon. Col. Wakley, T.
Martin, J. Wawn, J. T.
Mitcalfe, H. Williams, W.
Morris, D. TELLERS.
O'Brien, J. Elphinstone, H.
Ogle, S. C. H. Hume J.
List of the NOES.
Bailey, J. Clayton, R. R.
Bodkin, W. H. Clerk, Sir G.
Boldero, H. G. Cockburn, rt. hn. Sir G.
Borthwick, P. Cole, hon. H. A.
Bowles, Adm. Corry, rt. hn. H.
Broadley, H. Cripps, W.
Bruges, W. H. L. Denison, J. E.
Buckley, E. Dickinson, F. H.
Burrell, Sir C. M. Dodd, G.
Burroughes, H. N. Douglas, Sir C. E.
Christopher, R. A. Estcourt, T. G. B.
Flower, Sir J. Lincoln, Earl of
Fremantle, rt. hn. Sir T. Lockhart, W.
Fuller, A. E. Marsham, Visct.
Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E. Mundy, E. M.
Gladstone, Capt. Nicholl, rt. hn. J.
Gordon, hon. Capt. Palmer, G.
Goulburne, rt. hn. H. Peel, rt. hn. Sir R.
Graham, rt. hn. Sir J. Peel, J.
Greene, T. Plumptre, J. P.
Heneage, G. W. Sibthorp, Col.
Herbert, hon. S. Smith, rt. hn. T. B. C.
Hodgson, R. Somerset, Lord G.
Hope, hon. G. W. Sutton, hon. H. M.
Jermyn, Earl Thesiger, Sir F.
Jones, Capt. Thompson, Ald.
Knatchbull, rt. hn. Sir E. TELLERS.
Knight, H. G. Young, J.
Liddell, hn. H. T. Pringle, A.

Main question agreed to.