HC Deb 02 July 1851 vol 118 cc104-11

Order for Second Reading read.


, in rising to move the Second Reading of this Bill, which related to residences for the Parochial Clergy, said, he would observe that there were two other Bills of his on the paper of the day, one referring to the erection and support of Churches and Chapels by private endowment; and another, entitled the United Church of England and Ireland Bill, having in view the consolidation, amendment, and repeal of old statutes, save so for as existing rights were concerned. His object was to introduce such provisions as might make a complete and satisfactory code on the subject. In attempting to do so he had taken care that there should be no interference with vested rights. The 3rd George II., c. 12, and the 31st George III., c. 19, were fair specimens of the patchwork system of legislation. He had gone over all the Acts relating to the subject, and had extracted such of their provisions as had appeared to him just. Forty-one statutes had been consolidated and amended, and selections had been made from fifteen other statutes, some of which applied only to England. With regard to the Bill respecting the residences of the clergy, he had to observe, that by a recent Act of Parliament residence was a duty enforced under a penalty; and, therefore, the providing and maintaining a suitable residence was properly considered as a charge on the profits of the benefice. One of the earliest Acts, 10th William III., c. 6, recited— That the mansion houses of the clergy had been ruined and destroyed by the frequent wars and rebellions that have happened in this kingdom, whereby residence has become very difficult, and is like to continue so, unless due encouragement be given to rebuild and repair the former houses, and to erect new houses. That was the first Act on the subject. Under that Act, and those connected with it, the person who first took the benefice and built a mansion for the purpose of the benefice, was allowed to expend one and a half year's income, and was at liberty to charge two-thirds against the successor who first received a year's income. That Act was subsequently modified, and the law at present was, that two years' income might be expended when the building was on a new site, and one and a half year's income when it was on an old site. There seemed to be no reason now for this distinction, and he proposed in the new Bill to make two years' net income the limit of the expenditure in all cases. With regard to the claim of the original builder against his successor, he could recover from his successor at present the entire sum expended. That person recovered three-fourths from the next, who recovered one-half from the next, who recovered the remaining fourth from the next. That system worked with great injustice, and it was well illustrated by a case that recently came to his notice. The case was that of an original builder, who had built in 1795, and who had a charge exceeding 600l. He lived twenty-two years, and his successor thirty-four years. The present incumbent was presented lately by the Bishop of Limerick; but the living is not worth now more than 150l. a year, and yet he had to pay three-fourths of the charge—that was to say, more than three years' income for a house fifty-six years old. Now, in such a case, the liability was not equally distributed. What he had to propose was, that the first party going to build should present a memorial, stating the necessity for building, and that the report made thereon should be certified by the bishop. It was then proposed to give the first builder a certain number of years' enjoyment of the charge, which he proposed should be liquidated at the rate of 2 per cent annually, so that each person would recover against his successor the amount of the charge, minus the reductions for the period of time which he had enjoyed it. The charge would thus exhaust itself, and every person would pay a proportion of the entire building in reference to his period of enjoyment. The next point he proposed in the Bill was the adoption of the principle contained in what are called in England the Gilbert Acts—viz., a power of raising funds by mortgage for the purpose of building, to be repaid by easy instalments, payable by the incumbent for the time being. The present mode was to compel by sequestration; but that was expensive—it was only available when an incumbent had been two years in possession, and it handed over the proceeds sequestered to the refractory party to expend them. Under the new code the bishop would be bound to superintend the proper expenditure. The next point related to perpetual curacies. Formerly, by Act of Parliament, the power of charging was limited to 50l., because, when the law was made, the Board of First Fruits were empowered to make free grants in aid; but that fund was now transferred to the Eccle- siastical Commissioners, and was now wholly diverted from its original purposes, so that the limitation which, when made, was a boon, was now a grievance. He proposed to remove that grievance, and to put perpetual curates on the same footing as other incumbents with respect to it, and to give all classes of the resident clergy equality of privileges, and open facilities for private endowments. The next point related to a registration of charges, so that every incumbent might know the extent of his liability. He now came to that part of the Bill relative to the law as to dilapidations, than which law in its present state nothing could be more unjust. It too often happened that clergymen in Ireland died in a state of poverty, and that their families were left with scarcely any means of subsistence, and yet, according to the present law, a heavy charge might be brought against them for dilapidations. It was always assumed that the residence was to be, and could be, kept in a state of undiminished repair. He hoped the House would allow him shortly to refer to the opinions of several eminent prelates on this point. The Bishop of Limerick wrote, "It has added many a bitter ingredient in the cup of the fatherless and the widow." The Bishop of Down and Connor, "The law is in a very uncertain and unsatisfactory state," The Bishop of Kilmore, "As to the building charges and dilapidations, the law requires complete revision and explanatory enactments." The Archdeacon of Cork, "There is no subject requiring legal revision so much; the results sometimes so distressing to the families of deceased incumbents." The return made to the Bishop of Tuam by the archdeacon and rural deans stated— The necessity of providing for building charges upon institution o a benefice has at all times been inconvenient and embarrassing; but the difficulty is much increased by the reduction of parochial income, and the subdivision of benefices. To promote a poor clergyman to a benefice for which he may be in every other respect peculiarly eligible, would be in many instances to consign him to hopeless insolvency. The practice with regard to dilapidations is grievous and ineffective. If a clergyman dies in distress (as many do now-a-days), his successor must either resort to legal proceedings against the widow and children, or make himself responsible for repairs. The return then referred to the state of the present incomes, and showed the average of the beneficed clergy to be an average of 190l. net per annum, The return from the Bishop of Killaloe, after going over similar complaints pf the oppression and injustice of the present law, stated, "It is most earnestly desired that the law of dilapidations were altered." It stated the average income of the beneficed clergy at about 120l. net per annum, and in some places that the incumbent was actually out of pocket, and concluded thus:— That as matters stand at present, the income of the clergy is scarcely more than the interest of the money which it costs to educate them for the ministry. Now, what he proposed to do on this part of the subject was, that the repairs should be classified and divided into branches; first, ordinary annual repairs; secondly, substantial and permanent repairs, He proposed that the first should be executed at the exclusive charge of the occupier; and that the second should be a charge on the benefice as a building charge In estimating dilapidations, he. proposed it should be considered: first, what should have been done by the incumbent at his own cost; second, what by way of charge; third, whether there had beep negligence in not executing the latter at the proper time; and, fourth, whether proper diligence had been used in obtaining indemnity for dilapidations which existed before his incumbency. Under the present law the incumbent could rebuild and charge; but if he made repairs he could pot charge. He thought all would be placed on an equitable basis if permanent repairs were placed on the footing of building charges. He also proposed to introduce a provision to enable a clergyman to ask for a commission to inspect the house, and to see that it was in proper repair, and to obtain a certificate that it was so. There were also provisions for insuring, and with respect to unsuitable residences. The residences built in former times, by incumbents were in many cases not suitable to the present time, and yet the incumbents were obliged to keep them in repair. He should propose that such large pr unsuitable houses might be gold, and more suitable ones purchased, The Bill also provided a power of leasing the glebe, and of securing uniformity both as to charges and dilapidations. There were several minor matters of improvement in detail, which were more fit for consideration in Committee. Such were the leading provisions of the Bill regarding ecclesiastical resi dences. The second Bill related to the endowment of Churches and Chapels. It had become necessary in consequence of the public aid formerly given for the building of Churches and Chapels having been withdrawn. Rates and cesses had been abolished, first fruits had been transferred, and public grants had been refused. It was important that religious earnestness should be challenged and voluntary aid stimulated for the building and endowment of Churches and Chapels. Of these there were three classes, namely, Proprietary, Parochial, and District chapels; and endowments were necessary as regards the site, the fabric, and the minister. The object of the present Bill was not to give any new powers, but to combine the provisions of the several statutes, commencing in the reign of George II., and to concentrate in any case in any class the separate provisions for a peculiar class. In the margin of each section the previous Acts and sections were given. The grounds for the Amendments were two important facts: first, the large and increasing demand for Church extension; and, second, the inadequacy of the funds of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to meet these demands. In the Report of the Committee on Ministers' Money in 1848, it was stated that upwards of ninety-nine school-houses and other places were licensed for public worship, and that in every one there was a sufficient congregation, but no church. In the diocese of Cork alone there were from forty to fifty such places. In many of these cases a contribution from private funds was ready. It also appeared that of 249 applications for rebuilding, 116 had been granted, and 133 postponed for want of funds; that of 294 applications for enlargement, 51 had been granted, 243 postponed for want of funds; that 17,458l. had been contributed by private subscriptions to the first, and 14,806l. to the last. He might mention that in two Gounties—Down and Antrim—thirty-three churches had been built within the last twenty years, and that eight had been rebuilt. In 1845 the Lord Primate stated that 100,000l. of private subscriptions and upwards had been contributed within twelve years for the purpose of church accommodation. By the abolition of church cess in Ireland, the cost of building, rebuilding, repairing, and enlarging of churches was defrayed out of Church property, and by voluntary effort. In the Report of the Ec- clesiastical Commissioners last year it was stated— In noticing the aid afforded by private subscriptions, we have to add that in many cases the commissioners have been unable to avail themselves of similar assistance, as the state of their funds did not admit of the necessary contributions, on their part, for the completion of the works proposed. It is with great regret that we feel called upon to state for your Excellency's information, that the revenues of the commissioners are quite inadequate to meet the demands upon them. And in order the more accurately to inform themselves on this subject, the commissioners directed an inquiry to be made, and an abstract prepared, of the nature, and extent of applications received for the rebuilding, enlargement, and internal painting of churches, and the enclosure of churchyards, the result of which has been that the estimated cost of these and other necessary church works amounts to the sum of 260,000l.; and it is to be observed, that even this sum does not represent the entire wants of the churches, for the commissioners are assured by the episcopal members of the board, that many applications are withheld by the clergy from their knowledge of the total inefficiency of the funds at their disposal. That showed that there were wants to be supplied, and demands to be met. With regard to the number of chapels built and not yet endowed, it appeared that their number from 1834 to 1847 was seventy-one, and that several were in progress, and many not specified. His object was not to give new powers, but to combine the provisions of former Acts together, so that parties might more readily avail themselves of the Acts in existence relating to churches and chapels. Trustees, where the present endowment was inadequate, might co-operate with persons who were willing to endow or to augment present endowments, of course giving them corresponding rights of presentation. It would be a very great advantage to combine public sanction with private effort; but, unless private aid were large and liberal, the public sanction could not afford a permanent and adequate supply. His object was to put the Church in good working order, and to enable it faithfully to fulfil its mission. He had never wished to sanction any of its abuses, and had ever been willing to remove every obstacle which prevented it, becoming really useful to the people. But as every prudent and solid improvement should be encouraged and promoted by Parliament, he hoped the House would now give its assent to the Second Reading of these Bills.

Bill read 2° as was also—

Churches and Chapels (Ireland) Bill, and

United Church of England and Ireland Bill.

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