HC Deb 28 March 1855 vol 137 cc1274-9

Order for Second Reading read.


said, that in moving the second reading of this Bill, he wished to explain how the law now stood with regard to the holding of pluralities by clergymen of the Established Church. An Act was passed in 1850 for putting an end to the practice of holding benefices in plurality; but just before it passed a clause was inserted, the effect of which was to extend certain powers which were given under a former Act, and to enable any number of benefices to be consolidated and held as one, though they might not be held in plurality. This state of the law involved the inconsistency that, whilst the clergyman could not be presented to two livings, the two might be united and held in consolidation as one. How the system operated was rendered sufficiently apparent by the returns which had been laid upon the table of the House. The cases enumerated in the first of these returns were two livings in Cambridgeshire, which had been consolidated into one, and in each of which there was ample provision for the payment of a clergyman. The population of the two parishes together amounted to 939 souls, and their joint income was 715l. The next was the case of two parishes in Shropshire, the population of which was not so large, but the income was nearly 700l. a year. It was quite clear that the object in uniting these parishes together was to make up a considerable income for some friend or relative; and for this purpose, instead of the revenues of the Church being appropriated to the objects for which they were originally intended—namely, the payment of a clergyman to perform his duties and reside within the parish—the two parishes were united and consolidated into one. The third case of the sort was in the county of Suffolk, and the fourth in the county he had the honour to represent—Sussex. In the return for 1853, there were very many cases of the same description, and in one instance two parishes were consolidated that were not less than three miles apart from each other. Such a state of things as this, he was sure the House would agree with him, was most objectionable and demanded the application of a remedy. He did not, however, propose to act with any undue stringency in applying that remedy; and whatever suggestions hon. Members might think proper to make, he should be happy to consider in Committee on the Bill. According to the existing law, no limit was fixed to the value of the livings consolidated, and one object of his Bill was to remedy this defect. This he did by the first clause. The second clause referred to the non-residence of certain masters of colleges and public schools, who under the present state of the law could claim exemption from the general obligations upon clergymen in this respect; and it was directed to provide a remedy against the evils thence arising. In the county of Sussex there was one parish with a considerable population, and an income of 1200l. a year; in this situation and in Cambridgeshire, another parish with an income of 1150l. a year; but in neither case had the bishop of the diocese the power to enforce the residence of the incumbent. This, too, was an objectionable state of things, and he proposed that whilst the incumbents in possession should not be interfered with during their lives, in all future appointments their residence should be enforced. Further, there were at present a great number of parishes where the churches had unfortunately been allowed to become dilapidated and fall to ruin, and though the income was sufficient to pay the clergyman, there was no place of worship, and the clergymen never went near the parish to perform his duties. In the north of England he was acquainted with a parish having a population of 2000 thus situated, and a similar case of a parish in Wales having a population of 1200. Now, he held that some legislation was absolutely required upon this subject, with a view to secure the erection of a church in parishes so circumstanced; and he proposed by the third clause, therefore, that from the period the living next became vacant the income should, if it were thought advisable by the bishop of the diocese, be allowed to accumulate in order to provide a building fund, and that until the church was built the bishop might license a room for the performance of Divine worship in the parish. It was to accomplish these several objects that he proposed the Bill, and he trusted the House would consent to its being now read a second time.

Motion made and Question proposed "That the Bill be now read a second time."


opposed the second reading of the Bill. He did not think that it was very desirable to legislate on questions of this kind in detail. He thought, too, that the changes contemplated by the Bill were unnecessary, and were open to many objections, and did not even carry out systematically the intentions of the proposer himself. He thought that the regulations which it contained with respect to the regulations for the consolidation of benefices were not framed with sufficient clearness and accuracy to render them easily workable, and the limited application of the Bill to benefices under a certain amount would lead to uncertainty as to the state of the law. The second clause, which referred to the non-residence of masters of colleges and schools, he had no objection to; and with regard to the latter clause of the Bill, he must say that he did not think it desirable to confiscate the revenues of parishes which had no church but had a clergyman, in order to provide a sacred edifice. It would evidently occupy some period before a church could be erected from the accumulation of the income which now went to the incumbent, and he did not think it would be desirable to deprive the parishioners of the advantage of the ministrations of a clergyman for this length of time, particularly as a room might be licensed for the celebration of divine worship, if there was no church. If it were thought necessary to make such a provision, he thought some better means of getting funds might be provided than that of confiscating the income of the clergyman. Looking at the Bill as a whole, he did not think there was any pressing necessity for it, and he hoped the hon. Gentleman would not press it to a division. He would move that the Bill should be read a second time that day six months.

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


said, that the Bill proposed to deal with three very important questions—the union of benefices, the residence of clergymen, and the building of churches, in a very small compass. He thought the limit of distance, in the first clause, by which it was provided that the churches should be within a mile and a half of each other, was a good provision, and ought to be accepted by the House; but he did not think it advisable to make any change as to the value of the livings. He highly approved of the second clause, and thought its provisions ought to be extended to canons and prebendaries. As to the third clause, it was not open to the objection of the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cowper), as it provided for the supply of the funds in a very legitimate way, and it was not to extend to any parish where a room was licensed for public worship. He would not offer any obstacle to the Bill going into Committee.


said, the third clause appeared to be to the same effect as a Bill brought in by the hon. Member for Sussex sonic years ago, and which, after much discussion, the House rejected. It seemed to him as though the hon. Member, finding one evil existing in a parish, proposed to remedy it by the creation of another. Because there happened to be no parish church in a parish—a circumstance which all would deplore—the hon. Gentleman proposed, in fact, that, until the bishop was satisfied that the income of the benefice had accumulated sufficiently to erect a church, there should be no clergyman. That, in his (Mr. Bouverie's) opinion, was not by any means the proper way to remedy the evil. Neither was he willing to give to the bishop the power contained in the third clause, in reference to the presentation of clergymen to benefices by the patrons. As to the clause respecting the union of benefices, it was mere nibbling with the great and important question of pluralities—a question which ought to be dealt with as a whole, and not in one particular minor point, as proposed by the Bill. He trusted the House would reject the Motion for reading the Bill a second time,


said, there were clearly grounds for sending the Bill to a Committee. If the returns before the House were examined, it would be found that there were many cases in which the persons who paid for the means of spiritual edification had no clergyman resident near them and no church. He admitted that the third clause was not perfect, inasmuch as it left to the bishop the option of presenting or not; but that might be altered when the Bill went into Committee; it might be made compulsory upon the bishop in the case of parishes where there was no church to license a room for the performance of divine worship until sufficient funds had accumulated for the erection of a church. He should vote for the second reading.


concurred with the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Cowper) as to the inconvenience of frequent legislation upon matters of this kind, particularly as in the present instance the hon. Mover of the Bill himself seemed, judging by the first clause, to undergo a constant change of mind upon the question of value. The third clause, he admitted, was an important one, because nobody could desire, where there was a benefice with a certain amount of revenue and no church, that such a state of things should continue. But what would the proposal of the hon. Member do, so far as providing a remedy was concerned? Why, it would have no effect at all during the lives of the existing incumbents, and would only come into operation upon the voidance of the cures. Consequently, whilst the lives of fifty or sixty incumbents of benefices so situated endured there would be no remedy whatever for the evil. Churches were generally built by means of the contributions of persons who took an interest in such matters, with the assistance of certain societies; but if this Bill were to become law, and it were known that upon the death of incumbent A, B, C, who was rather feeble, and not likely to live more than two or three years, a fund would at once begin to accumulate, he apprehended that great difficulty would be experienced in getting people to subscribe for the erection of a church in that locality. For, naturally enough, they would say, "In a few years you will have a fund sufficient for building a church, and we can find plenty of other places where our money will be more useful." Some analogy might be drawn between the case and the appointment of new bishops. The new bishop directed his energy to promote the interests of his diocese, and so would the parishes in this case. He thought it likely that a new church would be built more quickly by having an energetic man in the cure, however small, besides having the inestimable advantage of increased parochial ministration. As regarded the second clause, there might be some abuses in the case of those having the cure of souls; but upon the whole he thought they were very few. Upon the whole, therefore, if the Bill went to a division, he should feel inclined to vote against it.


replied. He had brought forward the measure entirely for the public good, and he was not responsible for the Bill of last year. There was a strong feeling in the country that these things should be reformed, and therefore he would take the sense of the House on the subject.

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

The House divided:—Ayes 30; Noes 112: Majority 82.

Words added.

Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.

Second reading put off for six months.