HC Deb 20 June 1860 vol 159 cc748-55

Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on the Amendment proposed to Question [6th June], 'That the Bill be now read a second time;' and which Amendment was, to leave out the word 'now,' and at the end of the Question to add the words 'upon this day six months.'

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

Debate resumed.


said, he would remind the House that the principle upon which the Bill before them had already been assented to, both by that and the other House of Parliament. The hon. and learned Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Selwyn), however, who had moved the Amendment, had not only objected to the scheme embodied in the Bill, but had set up a counter-proposition, and had made charges against the Commissioners which, if sustained, would raise a grave question, not only whether new duries should be imposed upon them, but whether the duties which they now discharged ought to continue to be intrusted to them. Fortunately, the hon. and learned Gentleman had confined his argument to a very narrow issue. He had raised no question as to the amount of the incomes paid to the Bishops or Chapters, nor had he made any charge against the Commission arising out of the sale and purchase or letting of estates, or the erection or repair of buildings. The only complaints he had made against the Bill were, that it would extend a system of centralization, and would render necessary a heavy amount of compensation. He also characterized it as a measure of confiscation. Centralization, compensation, and confiscation—these were ugly words, and ought to be well supported. His hon. Friend, however, endeavoured to prove his case in a somewhat singular manner. In the first instance, he said that centralization must carry with it bad and expensive management; and, to prove that that had been the result in this case, he instituted a comparison between the rental of the estates in the hands of the Commissioners and the expense of their management. He stated the annual rental of the estates at £173,000. At first, he (Mr. Henley) could not find these figures; but he ultimately discovered that they were not in the statement of the Commissioners as to the income for the year 1859—to the Report for which year the hon. and learned Gentleman otherwise confined himself— but were quoted by the authorities appointed by the Treasury, and referred to the year 1858. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that the annual rental was £173,000, and the expenses of management £43,000. That, if true, was a formidable charge; but was it well founded? To arrive at that amount the hon. and learned Gentleman had added together the totals of five accounts. The first of these was the Common Fund income account, the office expenses of which, with some small surveying and legal expenses, amounted to £13,000, but which had as much to do with the rental of the estates ns it had with the Pope of Rome. The next was the Common Fund general account, in which surveyors' and lawyers' expenses stood at £6,400; the third was capitular leaseholds, £490; and the last was Bishops' and Chapters' commuted estates,£12,922. When they looked at the accounts Nos. 1 and 4, it was clear that the expenses charged in them were largely increased through the purchase and sale of the vast amount of property with which the Commission dealt; how, then, could the hon. Gentleman charge them as agency expenses upon the rental of the estates? [Mr. SELWYN dissented.] His hon. and learned Friend shook his head, but that was what he had done.


explained that he had not said that the sum of £43,000 was paid out of the rental, but had only contrasted the rental with that and two other sums—namely, £404, which the Commissioners gave to local charities, and £809,000 which they spent on the endowment of churches.


said, he must remind the hon. and learned Gentleman that his words were, "There could be no question that the management of estates by a central body was enormously expensive. The simple expense of management amounted to no less than £43,000." The hon. and learned Gentleman might not have intended to produce the impression that that sum was expended for the management of estates of which the rental was only£173,000; but that was the impression which those words conveyed to his mind, and he believed also to those of other hon. Members. His hon. and learned Friend had said not a word about the purchase and sale of estates, but the last Report of the Commissioners stated that the value of the fee simple of the property sold and purchased during the year amounted to no less a sum than £1,000,000; so that it was no wonder that these solicitors' and surveyors' charges had been rather high. Nevertheless, during the same year, they had paid over a balance to the Common Fund of no less than £100,000 in money.

To return to the rental account. The gross rental for the year 1859, including arrears, instead of £173,000, amounted to £218,000. The net rental was £184,000, while the charge for management was in reality only about £10,200. So that instead of a charge of £43,000 upon an income of £173,000, it turned out to be for agency and management a charge of something over £10,000 upon a rental of £218,000, or between 4 and 5 per cent. Whether that might be a trifle more or less than it ought to be he would not pretend to say, but it was not such a charge as would warrant the statement that the Commissioners were wholly unworthy of confidence, as would have been the case had they really spent£43,000 in managing estates of which the rental was only £173,000. In the Appendix to the Report, it was stated that in buying and selling they had dealt with no fewer than 288 enfranchisements, 241 sales, and 71 purchases, and had, as he had said, paid over a balance to the Common Fund of £100,000. His hon. and learned Friend, however, had, as he had shown, omitted to notice the necessary charges for all that buying and selling.

Let him now consider what was the counter-proposition which his hon. and learned Friend opposed to this Bill. His hon. and learned Friend entirely disclaimed, on the part of the capitular bodies, any wish that their incomes should be increased, but he said they ought to do what the Court of Chancery would do—they ought to divide the estates. He had also said a great deal about confiscation. Now, as far as he understood the matter, what occurred twenty-five years ago with regard to the Church property was that Parliament said, "This is trust property, and we will take upon ourselves to declare the uses of it." The distinction was extremely fine between declaring the uses and settling where the legal estate should be. According to his hon. and learned Friend, if the legal estate was transferred to the Commissioners for the use of the Bishops and Chapters, that was confiscation, but if each of these persons or bodies was allowed to have a slice of the property, that was not confiscation. That was rather too fine a distinction for him. The real question for decision was, which of these two modes of dealing with the property would conduce most to the comfort and convenience of those who were interested in it? No one would go further than he would to provide that the parties who had the first interest in the property should have the amount which the law intended them to receive secured to them, not only without trouble, but in the manner which would be most acceptable to themselves. He could not, however, forget the difficulties which arose and the insinuations, often of the most unfounded character, which were thrown out during the existence of the old system, according to which the Bishops or Chapters held the estates and paid to the Ecclesiastical Commission a fixed sum as the surplus produced over a certain amount. His hon. and learned Friend desired that a certain quantity of land in perpetuity should be given to each of the Chapters, which should produce exactly the income which they were entitled to receive. In the first place, as land frequently changed its value, the adoption of that plan would render unnecessary a new settlement every ten or fifteen years, or whatever time might be fixed; but there was the further objection to it, that it was almost impossible to assign to a man a given number of acres which should each year or on the average of years for ever produce a certain sum, and neither more nor less. Some persons might manage an estate in such a manner as, while diminishing its value in future years, to get a greater immediate produce from it. For these reasons he thought that it would not be advisable to adopt the proposition of his hon. and learned Friend, and preferred to it that contained in this Bill. His hon. and learned Friend had charged the Commissioners with having violated the Act of Parliament which required them to have an independent audit, by having the accounts audited by Mr. Morgan, one of their own officers. When he heard that, he thought the days of the old Ecclesiastical Commission had come back, but on turning to the Act he found that his hon. and learned Friend was quite wrong in his facts. The Act of Parliament provided that "the accounts shall be audited from time to time in such manner and at such times as shall be directed"—by whom?—not by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners but "by the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury." It was therefore not the fault of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners if the Treasury had had such confidence in one of the officers of the Commission officers, an eminent actuary, as to be satisfied with his audit. It was true that the business had so much increased of late years that Mr. Morgan had not been able to go into all the accounts; but he believed that, upon the whole, the audit was a satisfactory one. He thought the proposal of the Commission was on the whole less objectionable than that of the hon. and learned Gentleman. If his hon. and learned Friend had proved his case against the Commission the case would be equally good and equally valid against leaving in their hands the portion which he proposed to leave to them. If the Commissioners were so extravagant in their management as had been alleged, it would not be right or proper on the part of the House of Commons to leave to them the management of any portion of the property. But now that he had gone through the principal statements of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Cambridge University, he hoped he had removed the impression which they were so well calculated to produce on the public mind. He believed they ought all to have but one object, to get the property in the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners as well managed for everybody as they could, and at as little expense as possible. The Bishops and the capitular bodies should have their fair share of it in the manner most conducive to their interests and most grateful to their feelings. He also thought that the remainder should be placed under the best possible management. The business of the Commission could not be carried on without expense, and he did not believe that it could be transacted at much less cost than at present. He should therefore have much pleasure in voting for the second reading of the Bill, reserving to himself the right of proposing any alteration in Committee.


said that, though not a member of the Church of England, he wished to disclaim being actuated by any feelings of hostility to it. The diocese of Durham contributed £55,000 a year to the revenues of the Ecclesiastical Commission. He did not know how much out of that the Commissioners allocated to the county of Durham, but it was a very small sum indeed, and one which the Commissioners, he thought, would hardly like to have mentioned in that House. The inhabitants had endeavoured to do their duty; they had made subscriptions, held bazaars, and resorted to other methods to raise money for the erection of churches and schools; but when he considered the proportion given to Durham out of the revenues of the Commission as compared with what was given to other counties, he thought it time that there should be further legislation. A small village in Yorkshire received a grant of £600 towards building a church, the population being 150, while only the same amount was granted towards building a church in West Hartlepool, the population being 10,000, though he did not wish to deny that the latter place received also a grant of £39 a year. Of twenty-three churches built or enlarged in the county, eighteen were done by the people themselves, and the remainder by the aid of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The see of Durham was called the golden see, but there was no see for which less was done by the church to supply the spiritual wants of the people than was done for the see of Durham. One result of this was the increase of dissenting communities. There was not a village in the county in which there were not two or three rooms or other places of worship for Dissenters, who had also the advantage of greater lay assistance than the church had, though that advantage was now disappearing. Property had its privileges, but it had also its duties, and he thought the House would not say that other parts of the kingdom had equal claims to the revenues derived from church property in the county of Durham, as the county of Durham itself had.


said, he thought the Bill ought not to go to a second reading, on the grounds which had been stated by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Selwyn), and he was surprised the other day to hear the very feeble defence offered by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary for these accounts. He had hoped that the Government would have produced a well-considered measure upon the subject. He perfectly agreed with an observation that had been made that piece legislation was generally bad, but it was positively dangerous when applied to the Church. He was quite surprised the other day to hear the right hon. Gentleman (Sir George Lewis) who had great financial abilities, say that the accounts were satisfactory and could easily be understood by a person having a special knowledge. Now, the more he looked at these accounts, the more complicated they became, and the less he understood them. Why were they not furnished with a tabular statement of the amount of the receipts, the sources whence they were derived, and the expenses of management? If that were done the House would easily see how the accounts stood. He had been told that the expenses of the management of the Commission were nearer £70,000 than £40,000, which had been stated in that House to be the amount. He did not wish to see the Ecclesiastical Commission destroyed, but he thought considerable improvement might be made in its administration. He denied that the Amendment of his hon. and learned Friend would lead to a retrograde policy; it would lead to a progressive policy. He did not contend that the estates of the capitular body should be retransferred to them, but his objection to the Bill was, that it proposed to cast all this property at once into the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commission, without taking into consideration the special claims to which it was subjected. The Ecclesiastical Commission was a very unpopular body. It owed its origin to the Reform agitation of thirty years ago. The heads of the Church took fright, and resolved to sacrifice a part, to keep the rest, and the Act of 1835 was passed, which was followed by the appointment of the Ecclesiastical Commission. No doubt great abuses existed in the Church at that time, but the Commission began at the wrong end. The chapters were reduced in number, but nothing was done in any other respect to reform those establishments. If the canonries were sinecures then, they were sinecures now. Those foundations were of two kinds, cathedrals of the old foundation, and those of the new foundation. To the former of these he would not then refer; but those of the new foundation had three special objects—religious instruction, secular education, and works of charity.

Debate further adjourned till To-morrow.

House adjourned at five minutes before Six o'clock.