HC Deb 18 February 1856 vol 140 cc973-7

said, he rose to move the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire into the present constitution of the Ecclesiastical Commission for England; and into the operation of certain Acts of Parliament in connection with it. He wished to state that by the 13 & 14 Vict. chap. 94 (1850), passed after an inquiry by a Select Committee of that House in 1848, and founded upon its recommendations, an important change was made in the constitution of the Ecclesiastical Commission for England. Provision was made for the appointment of three persons, styled "Church Estates Commissioners," two to be appointed by the Crown and one by the Archbishop of Canterbury, one only of the Commissioners appointed by the Crown, together with the one appointed by the archbishop, receiving salaries, paid out of ecclesiastical funds. It was provided that no business should be transacted at any meeting of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners unless two at least of the Church Estates Commissioners should be present. It was further provided that the Church Estates Commissioners should, together with two other members of the Commission (one of whom must be a layman), constitute a Committee of the corporation, called the "Estates Committee." That Committee (the presence of two at least of the Church Estates Commissioners being required) had extensive powers committed to them with respect to the management of property vested in the Commissioners, and no act was to be done by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in respect of such property otherwise than by the Estates Committee, nor by such Committee unless with the concurrence of two at least of the Church Estates Commissioners. In respect, therefore, of the sale, purchase, exchange, letting, or management of property, the effect of the Act was to transfer the power of action from the general body of Ecclesiastical Commissioners to the smaller body of Church Estates Commissioners. There was a further power given to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners—to refer any other matters to the Estates Committee, and to authorise the Committee or the Church Estates Commissioners to do any other act within the power of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, in addition to those exclusively reserved to them by law, with the exception of affixing their seal to any scheme. There were other important provisions of that Act as to the audit of accounts, the union of the episcopal and common funds, and providing fixed incomes for the bishops, to which it was unnecessary further to refer. By the 14 & 15 Vict. chap. 104 (1851), an Act to facilitate the management and improvement of episcopal and capitular estates, other and important duties were intrusted to the Church Estates Commissioners. The object of that Act was to facilitate the enfranchisement of property held under the Church. It authorised ecclesiastical corporations, with the approval of the Church Estates Commissioners, who were to pay due regard to the just and reasonable claims of lessees, to sell, enfranchise, or exchange Church lands, or to purchase the interests of the lessees. That Act was limited to three years, which expired in 1854, when it was renewed for two years. It would consequently expire in the present year, unless renewed. Very extensive results have followed from the operation of those Acts. From August, 1851, to the present time, about 800 agreements have been effected by the Ecclesiastical Commission, relating to property of more value in fee than £4,000,000. The funds at the disposal of the Commission for Augmentations had been materially increased, and that had been done with general satisfaction on the part of the lessees. It will be a subject of inquiry whether additional duties may not be intrusted to the Church Estates Commission, and if so, whether any, and what alterations are desirable in the constitution of the Commission. The noble Lord the Member for Woodstock (the Marquess of Blandford) had a Bill before the House for the management of capitular and episcopal property, under which he proposed to constitute a new Commission. Without anticipating the discussion upon that Bill, he (Sir G. Grey) might say that he thought the House ought to be cautious not unduly to multiply Commissions, and that it was desirable to inquire whether these duties might not, if that Commission were strengthened, be discharged by the Church Estates Commission, which had hitherto worked to the satisfaction both of the Church and the lessees. Another subject of inquiry would be whether the Church Building Commission might not with advantage be consolidated with the Church Estates Commission. The Church Building Commission was first established in 1818. The Commission comprises sixteen archbishops and bishops, several high officers of State, and other persons. Their duties were to aid by contribution the erection of churches, to assign to such churches ecclesiastical districts, to sanction scales of pew rents and fees adopted in churches built with their aid, and to accept and hold land for sites of churches, parsonages, and burial-grounds. The duty was also imposed on that Commission of carrying into effect the provisions of the Act of last Session, the 18 & 19 Vict. chap. 127, for the union of contiguous benefices. In the earlier years of the Commission large funds granted by Parliament were placed at its disposal. Nearly 600 churches have been completed with its aid, providing sittings for about 600,000 persons, of which about two-thirds were free. At present, however, the amount of funds remaining in its hands was very limited, while the cost of the Commission was about £4,000 a year. His own opinion was, that that Commission might be usefully consolidated with the Ecclesiastical Commission, acting through the Church Estates Commission and Committee. Those were the principal objects of the inquiry. If the Committee were appointed, ample information would be laid before it as to the working of the Act of 1850; and he believed that the more that subject was inquired into the more general and deeper would be the conviction of the utility of the change made by that Act, and of the advantage of continuing the limited body appointed under it for transacting the greater part of the business of the Commission.


said, he begged to express his gratification at the course which the Government proposed to pursue, feeling satisfied that it must result in a great deal of good. The Act of 1840, establishing the Ecclesiastical Commission, and that of 1850, which modified it, introduced a new principle into the Church polity of this country; and it was the duty of the Government to take charge of the vessel while the new principle was being worked out. He believed that the inquiry would be attended with inestimable benefit to the Church; and he should be happy to refer his own Bill upon the subject to the consideration of the proposed Committee.


said, that as a Member of the Ecclesiastical Commission, he desired to express his hearty and entire concurrence in the proposal for that inquiry. He thought it was desirable that they should as soon as possible bring under the operation of one Board functions which were at present divided among a variety of authorities. He was glad to find that his noble Friend (the Marquess of Blandford) was prepared to refer to the consideration of the Committee the question of the proper management of that property which he proposed to regulate by his Bill. His hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Spooner) had occasionally found fault with the mode in which the interests of the lessees had been dealt with by the Commissioners, but he (Mr. Walpole) believed that the case of the hon. Gentleman himself had recently been settled to his own satisfaction; and the Commissioners had come to satisfactory arrangements with a number of other gentlemen similarly circumstanced.


said, he thought that there were so many of these Acts and Commissions that they stood in each other's way. It was time that the country should understand what these Acts were, and how the law really stood.


said, he must also express his satisfaction at the course which the Government intended to pursue. He thanked the right hon. Gentleman (Sir G. Grey) for thus redeeming the promise which he made in the last Session of Parliament.

Motion agreed to.

Select Committee appointedto inquire into the present constitution of the Ecclesiastical Commission for England; into the operation of the Act 13 & 14 Vict. c. 94, intituled, An Act to amend the Acts relating to that Commission, and of the Act 14 & 15 Vict. c. 104, intituled, An Act to facilitate the management and improvement of Episcopal and Capitular Estates in England; and into the expediency of further continuing the last Act, and of consolidating the Church Building Commission with the Ecclesiastical Commision.

The House adjourned at half after Twelve o'clock.