HC Deb 01 May 1850 vol 110 cc1081-9

The House resolved itself into Committee on the Benefices in Plurality Bill.

Clause 1.


said, he was for putting an end to pluralities altogether, in order to place the Church of England in that respect upon the same footing as the Church of Scotland. A clergyman was appointed not merely to read prayers and preach sermons, but to attend in all respects to the spiritual condition of his parish. He should certainly take the sense of the House as to whether there should be any pluralities at all.

Amendment proposed, page 1, line 20, after the word "Benefices," to leave out all the words to the end of the clause.


said, it would be impossible for any one, in the face of the facts, to attempt to undervalue the importance of the Bill, or of the Amendment which the hon. Member for Montrose intended to propose; neither could any one undervalue the importance of the absence of Ministers. [The Treasury bench was at that time wholly unoccupied.] Seeing, then, that no responsible adviser of the Crown was present, he begged to move that the Chairman report progress.


did not know it was necessary for Ministers to be present at every debate in that House; and, if a private Member brought forward a measure, he saw no reason why it should be defeated or postponed merely because Ministers were absent. He would support the hon. Member if he went on with his Bill.


observed, it was rather hard to call upon him to postpone his Bill merely because the Members of the Government were not in their places. He wished to inform the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge, that the Bill before them had been read a second time so long ago as the 20th of February; that, at the request of the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary he had postponed it for a month; when the 20th of March came there were additional postponements; and it was not fair now to require that the Bill should be further put off. He hoped the House would consider the position in which independent Members were placed, and go on with the Committee.


said, he should support the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for the University of Cambridge. When Members, not paid, attended in their places, he saw no reason why all the Ministers should be absent.


stated that the Home Secretary left the House, having requested that he might be Bent for as soon as the House entered upon the consideration of this Bill, and he apprehended that something unexpected detained him.


thought that the discussion of a measure so important ought to be attended by the presence of some Members of the Cabinet.


objected to its being held that the presence of Ministers was necessary to the proceedings of that House, for if such a principle were to be recognised, the Government could put an end to any Bill by merely absenting themselves.

[At this moment Sir Gr. GREY took his seat.]


said, that now, as the interests of the Church were in the charge of the Government, he should withdraw his Motion for reporting progress.


said, that when he left the House, another Bill was under discussion, and he thought the debate on it would not have terminated so soon.


would repeat, for the information of the right hon. Baronet, the observations which he had previously made, and moved the omission of all the words in the first clause after the words "two benefices" in page 1, last line, so as to render it impossible for any one to hold two benefices.


stated that there were many benefices in England the value of which was so exceedingly small that it would be expedient to effect several consolidations. He should certainly not he favourable to any benefices being held unless the incumbent could exercise personal supervision.


supported the Amendment. It might be said that it would not be right to have small livings with such scanty incomes as were at present attached to them. But he would increase those incomes, and would take care that no clergyman of the Church of England should work without being properly paid for it.


saw only one objection to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Montrose, namely, that there was at present no adequate provision for a clergyman in many of these small parishes. If the hon. Member could point to any adequate provision for them, he (Mr. Gladstone) thought the House ought to agree to the Amendment. The case of Scotland, to which the hon. Member had adverted, was very different from that of England, for there was no be- nefice with less than 150l. a year in Scotland, and there the principle might be rigorously applied. But in England many parishes fell vacant of no greater annual value than 60l., 70l., or 80l., and see the difficulty of filling such livings satisfactorily with competent persons. The hon. Member, no doubt, thought that a portion of the incomes of the bishops and higher clergy ought to be applied to the augmentation of these small livings; but the measures necessary for this purpose would probably take years to discuss and debate, and a long period must necessarily elapse before Parliament would have such a control over these funds as to make them applicable to the augmentation of smaller livings. But in the meantime what would the hon. Member do with the poorer parishes? That was a practical difficulty of the gravest kind; and he trusted the hon. Member would not press his Amendment to a division, because he (Mr. Gladstone) was anxious not to give a vote which should appear to sanction pluralities. He believed that the existence of pluralities was opposed to all the sound principles upon which a Church was established, and that the pluralities in the Church of England had been a great blot upon its recent history. The House ought to travel towards their extinction as fast as possible; but they might be entailing greater evils by the absolute and immediate prohibition of pluralities, than by permitting their limited existence. There were at present three plans before the Committee: the Amendment of the hon. Member for Montrose, which proposed the absolute and immediate extinction of pluralities—[Mr. HUME: In future.] Yes, upon preserving the existing rights of incumbents they were all agreed. There was then the plan of the right hon. Member for South Wiltshire, which proposed that where two benefices were contiguous, and one was of a less value than 100l., the two livings might be held by the same clergyman. He (Mr. Gladstone) should support this Amendment, because he thought that if a clergyman with 500l. or 600l. a year would take possession of a contiguous benefice of small value, a great advantage would thereby he conferred upon the poor of the smaller parish. The proposal of the hon. Member for East Sussex, was to limit pluralities to cases where two parishes were contiguous, and the joint population of the two benefices did not exceed 600. Now looking to the very unsatisfactory working of the present Act, he thought the House ought not to stop at that point. Nothing but an absolute necessity ought to induce the Legislature to tolerate pluralities, and, reserving only cases of necessary exceptions, let the House abolish all pluralities in future, and adopt the Amendment of the right hon. Member for South Wiltshire.


objected to the Amendment of the right hon. Member for South Wiltshire, because, although one of the contiguous parishes might be under 100l., the other might be 1,000l. He instanced the case of a clergyman being presented to a benefice in Somersetshire of 1,200l., and whilst holding one in Norfolk of 85l, and that he absolutely refused to allow the 85l. to a young and efficient clergyman who was doing the duty in Norfolk, and offered him only 50l. He was aware that 100,000l had been raised by the Church for the purpose of sending bishops abroad to places where there was no population; and was it to be supposed that these charitable persons would not subscribe with equal liberality towards the improvement of our population at home? He was told in 1837 that no one would take the livings which Parliament then said should not be held in plurality with other benefices; but no such apprehensions had been realised. If the Government would give him (Mr. Hume) the nomination to all these livings, he would undertake to provide clergymen to live there, and incomes for them.


said, that the more income a clergyman had, who held a contiguous benefice, the better able he was to support a curate in the poorer parish.


said, he did not think it desirable that the proposed augmentations of livings should be effected out of the funds at the disposal of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. It would be preferable, he thought, that such funds should, in the first instance, be applied to the cases of large populations requiring more spiritual supervision. It would be better to consolidate by force of law small livings which lay contiguous and having a limited population.


said, if there were one thing more than another that prevented religious endowments in this country, it was the apprehension that when parties had devoted part of their substance to the purposes of the Church, hon. Members like the hon. Member for Montrose, and those who sat beside him, would step in and say, "We will not respect your endowments, and we will arbitrarily cut and alter your parochial arrangements." He wished the hon. Member for Montrose would devote his exertions towards restoring the endowments of the Church to their original intention. If he could obtain for the Church the great tithes now in the hands of lay proprietors, his Amendment might be adopted without much difficulty.


was convinced that if there was a clergyman in every parish, the lay proprietors of great tithes would be compelled by the force of public opinion to do something towards providing for those clergymen.


said, that the principle upon which the Church was founded was, that every parish should have a resident clergyman, and every congregation its religious teacher. He wished to see the smaller parishes consolidated, so that there might be an end to the legalising of pluralities. They were a great convenience in some cases, but in others they opened a door to great abuses. He should support the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose. The Bill before the House was good as far as it went; but as a matter of principle he should give his vote against the existence of pluralities in the Church at all.


represented to the hon. Member for Montrose, that if he carried his Amendment, he would prevent the consolidation of these parishes, and defeat the object he had in view. In many existing parishes there was no church, and in others the population was very small. Now, the only way in which such a population could be served was by uniting that with the adjoining parish, which, if the Amendment of the hon. Member for Montrose were carried, could not be done.


said, there were thirty-five parishes in the city which he represented (Norwich), and several of the livings did not amount in value to more than 35l. or 38l. Unless such livings were held in plurality with some other benefice, no clergyman could be found to accept them. The remedy was by consolidating these smaller parishes, and for these reasons he should oppose the Amendment of his hon. Friend the Member for Montrose.

Question put, "That the words 'unless the said benefices are actually contiguous to each other,' stand part of the clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 166; Noes 53: Majority 113.

List of the NOES.
Bass, M. T. Melgund, Visct.
Brockman, E. D. Mitchell, T. A.
Brotherton, J. Nugent, Lord
Burke, Sir T. J. O'Flaherty, A.
Clifford, H. M. Perfect, R.
Colebrooke, Sir T. E. Pilkington, J.
Corbally, M. E. Power, Dr.
Cowan, C. Raphael, A.
Davie, Sir H. R. F. Rawdon, Col.
Drumlanrig, Visct. Rice, E. R.
Duncan, Visct. Robartes, T. J. A.
Evans, W. Romilly, Col.
Fitzroy, hon. H. Rushout, Capt.
Forster, M. Salwey, Col.
Greene, J. Scholefield, W.
Hardcastle, J. A. Scrope, G. P.
Harris, R. Stansfield, W. R. C.
Hastie, A. Stanton, W. H.
Henry, A. Sullivan, M.
Hodges, T. L. Thicknesse, R. A.
Hodges, T. T. Thornely, T.
Horsman, E. Tollemache, hon. F. J.
Keogh, W. Walmsley, Sir J.
Kershaw, J. Willcox, B. M.
King, hon. P. J. L. Williams, J.
Lawless, hon. C. TELLERS.
Lushington, C. Hume, J.
Mackinnon, W. A. Aglionby, H. A.

would now move the Amendment of which he had given notice. His object was not to diminish the income of any clergyman, but to secure, as far as possible, pastoral superintendence in every parish—so that a clergyman might be able to reach every parishioner; and every parishioner, so to speak, might have no difficulty in having access to him. He thought that with 100l. a parish might be able to secure a pastor—not that he deemed such a sum sufficient for a clergyman, but that he thought 100l would be enough to induce a man to undertake the cure of a parish.

Amendment proposed— To leave out all the words from the words 'each other and' to the end of the clause, in order to add the words 'unless the yearly value of one such contiguous benefice shall be less than one hundred pounds.'


concurred in the propriety of having a resident clergyman in every parish; but he thought great difficulty would be experienced in carrying out the object of the Amendment in the case of very small parishes with populations of perhaps sixty or seventy, such as existed to a great extent in Lincolnshire. Then, if they agreed to consolidate such parishes, he would like to know what was to become of the fabric of the church in very many cases. He thought if the line was drawn so closely as proposed, much difficulty would be felt in many country districts. He would certainly oppose the Amendment.


regretted exceedingly the decision which the House had just come to; but as the Amendment now proposed would moderate in some degree the evil he had protested against, he would give it his support.


did not think there was any force in the objection of the hon. Member for North Lincolnshire to the Amendment, because in the smaller parishes, where there was a sufficient fund to support a curate, it was obviously preferable that the same amount should be given to a resident clergyman with the name of an incumbent instead of that of a curate, which was the only alteration contemplated by the Amendment. That would be the most likely course to prevent the parochial churches from falling into decay. He quite agreed with the hon. Gentleman who spoke last, that it was desirable that pluralities should be abolished, because they induced non-residence. The object of the present Bill was, that no two benefices should be held together, except under circumstances in which practically they should be considered as one benefice, the clergyman being able personally to superintend the two parishes, the population not being excessive, and they being actually contiguous. The right hon. Member for South Wiltshire went further, and proposed as an Amendment that no benefices should be held in plurality, except the value of the contiguous parish should be less than 100l. a year, and he should support that Amendment.


would support the present Amendment in preference to the other. There was no use in legislating for the removal of evils without saying how. The House might as well determine that there should be no poor or no poverty. In the present case there appeared to be but three courses: to settle in what manner pluralities should be consolidated; to decide that the poor parishes should have no pastors at all; or to leave things as they were. The present Amendment appeared to go to the first.


said, the best argument against this Amendment would be, that it might prevent some pluralities that were not attended with any intolerable evil. But there was evil in the principle of plurality itself, and only the strongest plea of necessity could justify it in any particular case. Where it was to be allowed, with respect to benefices under 100l a year, the reason was that it was necessary, not for the sake of the clergyman, but for the sake of the flock, who were not likely to be able to secure the services of an incumbent for such a small income; but where the benefice was worth 100l. and upwards, this Amendment went on the presumption that that amount would generally be sufficient to secure the services of a resident clergyman, and therefore it prohibited pluralities in all such cases.

Question put, "That the words 'the population of the two benefices jointly shall not exceed,' stand part of the clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 16; Noes 162: Majority 146.

List of the AYES.
Bagge, W. Packe, C. W.
Blackstone, W. S. Rushout, Capt.
Burroughes, H. N. Sibthorp, Col.
East, Sir J. B. Sturt, H. G.
Floyer, J. Trollope, Sir T.
Gore, W. R. O. Verney, Sir H.
Gwyn, H.
Jermyn, Earl TELLERS.
Langston, J. H. Frewen, C. H.
Lowther, hon. Col. Christopher, R. A.

Clause, as amended, agreed to, as were Clauses 2, 3, 4, and 5.

Clause 6 was withdrawn, and an amended clause agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered on Tuesday next, and to be printed.

The House adjourned at two minutes before Six o'clock.