HC Deb 02 March 1853 vol 124 cc884-9

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, said, that it was his most anxious wish, in bringing forward this measure, to promote moderate Church reform, and wherever abuses had been proved to exist, he considered that it was the duty of Parliament to remedy them. Having been the originator of an Act which was passed three years ago, to put an end to pluralities, he was resolved to pursue the same course of endeavouring to correct those abuses in the Church which must be obvious to every one, and that no opposition which he might receive should deter him from continuing his exertions in the cause. The first part of the Bill for which he now asked the House to consent to the second reading, was to remove an evil which had only existed for the last two or three years. A clause had been inserted in an Act, 13 & 14 Vict. c. 98, in the other House of Parliament, in the month of August, only five days before Parliament was prorogued, which gave a power of uniting any number of livings without any reference whatever to their value—the only limit to it was that the aggregate population should not exceed 1,500 people— so that under this section of the Act, five livings, each worth 500l. or 600l. a year, with an average population of 300 persons in each parish, might be consolidated into one benefice, or two contiguous benefices, each worth 1,000l. or 1,200 a year, with a population of 700 persons in each, might be joined and united into one. He contended that such a power was never heard of before this clause was slipped into this Act in the other House; and a return which they had on the table of the House showed to them, that within a very few months after this Act passed, livings had been most improperly united, for the purpose of making up a good income, either for the present or some future incumbent. Was this, he asked, appropriating the revenues of the Church in a proper and legitimate manner, or in a way calculated to promote the spiritual welfare of the people? He knew that the late Bishop of Lincoln said, on one occasion, that it was forming pluralities of the worst description, because they were permanent. The main object of the present Bill was, that this power of uniting benefices should only exist within reasonable bounds. His wish was to restore nearly the former laws as to the restrictions with regard to the value of the livings; and what he proposed was to enact that the provision of the Act of 1 & 2 Vict. c. 106, should only extend and be applicable to the union of two benefices, the aggregate yearly value of which did not exceed 600l., and the annual value of one of the said benefices should not exceed 200l., or the population of one of them should not exceed 100 persons. By the 37th Section of the above named Act, the heads of colleges and masters of endowed public schools holding a benefice with cure of souls were exempted from residing on their livings, and no bishop had the power to force them to go to their parish even for one Sunday in the year. Now, he proposed to alter the law in this respect, and to enact that no spiritual person who should be hereafter appointed head of any college or hall within either of the Universities of Oxford or Cambridge, or Provost of Eton College, or Warder of Winchester College, or head master, or under master of any public school with an endowment, should be exempted from any of the penalties on account of non-residence on any benefices to which he had been admitted. The third section related to a matter, the principle of which had been adopted by the House of Commons two years ago, in opposition to the then Government. There were, he regretted to say, a great number of parishes, he believed nearly a hunched, where there was an ample endowment for a clergyman; but the church had, at some time or other, been allowed to tumble down, and in nearly all these cases there was an incumbent receiving an income, but doing no duty, and never going near his parish. He knew one of these cases, where they were paying a clergyman 150l. a year, but they never saw one from year's end to year's end. There were one or two cases where there was a population of from 1,000 to 2,000 people, but they had no church, and no service was performed in those parishes on Sundays, or at any other time, although the incumbent was receiving not by any means a bad income from the living. Now, he did not propose to make any alteration in the present incumbent's lifetime, but that in future no incumbency should be filled up till a church was built in the parish, and then a new clergyman should be appointed; and he also proposed that the income of these livings, whilst they were void, should, under the direction of the bishop of the diocese, be appropriated towards building a church for the parish. The next clause was not one that he was very anxious about; hut he contended that it was of that nature which he did not think the House would refuse to grant. The law relating to private chapels was this: any person might have a private chapel to his house, provided there were not more than twenty persons present over and above the household. He proposed to extend this privilege, so as to make it include all the out-of-door servants of the owner of the house and their families; and he contended that this was but a very slight alteration of the present law. There were some cases where gentlemen resided at a considerable distance from a church, and would only be too glad to be allowed to pay a clergyman to come and perform the service in a private chapel on the Sunday, as the greater part of their household were unable to attend church on account of the distance. An hon. Friend of his, a Member of this House, had lately spent a very large sum of money in building a castle, and he had a private chapel in it. Now, he (Mr. Frewen) asked, ought it to be left in the power of the bishop of the diocese, or the incumbent of the parish, who might be at some little distance, to say that there should or should not be service in this chapel, and that the persons who were supported by his hon. Friend should be refused permission to attend it? He did not think that this House would refuse such a reasonable alteration of the law as this clause suggested.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."


said, that he had read the Bill of the hon. Member with some care, and it appeared to him that the first enacting clause was in direct contradiction to a Bill which the hon. Member himself bad brought in, and which was passed in 1850. Now, he (Mr. S. Herbert) must say that this kind of legislation on very important questions, that, namely, of picking up and dealing with small portions without reference to the general subject, was injurious in its effects; and he must confess that he himself by taking part in a previous Bill on the subject of pluralities, had been guilty of introducing some confusion into the law upon that subject. But, in this particular case, he thought that the proposal of the hon. Member would militate against a project which was at present in contemplation on the part of the Commission which had been appointed on the Motion of the Earl of Shaftesbury, for the purpose of effecting the subdivision of parishes, by preventing the possibility of uniting any benefices where the double value of the benefices exceeded 500l. As the law stood previous to 1850, that restriction had existed, hut the hon. Member had at that time set himself to alter that which he now sought to renew. [Mr. FREWEN: No, no!] Well, at all events, a clause doing away with the restriction had been introduced into the hon. Member's Bill. The proposal of the Commission to which he (Mr. S. Herbert) had referred was this: perhaps the House was not aware that in the City of London there existed a vast number of parishes from which the population had migrated, and the precincts of which on Sundays were nearly deserted. When the late census was taken, it was found the population of the City had diminished to 40,000, and if it had been taken on a Sunday, it is stated there would scarcely have been any one at all there. It had been proposed—and the Bishop of London was very anxious that the proposal should be carried out—to give to the diocesan powers to unite some of those parishes, and not to confer upon the incumbent the whole of the proceeds of the united benefices, but that when two or three parishes should be united, having a population of 1,000 or 2,000 souls or more, a sufficient salary should be provided for the incumbent of the united benefices, and that the surplus should be devoted to the creation of cures in the populous suburbs to which the population had migrated, which were now extremely ill provided, This object would be defeated by the hon. Member's Bill in all cases where the income of the united parishes exceeded 500l. But the hon. Gentleman had made out no case for his Bill. The fact was, that not only the patrons, but the bishops, had a great and direct interest in preventing the evils of which the hon. Member complained. He thought, moreover, that it would be rather an inconsiderate proceeding to retrace their steps after an experience of only three years, unless some very bad results could be shown to have arisen from the clause in the Act of 1850, which the hon. Member had certainly not proved. With respect to the clause in this Bill, providing for the future residence of heads of colleges and schools, he quite agreed in the principle of the hon. Member. But it was clear, looking to the exceptions detailed in 1 & 2 Vict., we should give due notice of any change to all public bodies which might be affected by it. One part of the proposed Bill would actually keep a parish in a state of heathenism, and prevent a clergyman being appointed till money enough could be collected to build a church; against that he must enter his protest. As to the last clause of the Bill, if they gave the power of building private chapels to any one who pleased, which should not be under the jurisdiction of the bishop, it would amount to this, that if the clergyman were of the Church of England he would be exempt from the control of the head of the diocese; if he was not of the Church of England he would not come under the operation of the statute regulating places of worship. For these reasons, he must say he hoped the hon. Gentleman would not press his Bill further; but if he insisted on doing so, he (Mr. S. Herbert) hoped the House would feel, with him, that these small measures of legislation on great subjects were in themselves injurious, likely to lead to much confusion, from their not taking a view of the whole, and dealing with each part in reference to the whole state of our legislation. Under these circumstances, he felt it his duty to move, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, he must complain that the right hon. Gentleman had misrepresented many of the points of his measure. If it were defective, its provisions could be amended in Committee.


said, he really hoped his hon. Friend would not press this Bill. There were, doubtless, many evils existing which demanded a remedy; but he did not think that this measure would advance the redress of those evils. After what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. S. Herbert), to the effect that the Government were considering the subject, and preparing a measure upon it, the best thing his hon. Friend could do was to withdraw the Bill.


said, he should take his hon. Friend's advice.

Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill withdrawn.

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