HC Deb 09 July 1863 vol 172 cc496-503

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said: This is a Bill which comes down from the House of Lords, in which it was introduced by my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor. Its object is to authorize the sale of about 320 of the smallest livings in the Lord Chancellor's gift, with the view that they may be purchased, as they probably will be, by the landowners of the parishes to which they belong, and that the purchase money may be applied either to the augmentation of those livings themselves, or of other livings small in value. The value of the greater portion of these livings ranges from £100 to £150 and £200 a year, and it is obvious that an income of that amount is not one on which a clergyman can properly and respectably fill the position in which he is placed. A clergyman with £100 a year has in all probability to keep a curate, and has remaining out of his income perhaps not more than £40; and we all know that the days are gone by when a clergyman can "pass for rich with £40 a year." This measure involves, no doubt, a great sacrifice of patronage on the part of the Lord Chancellor, inasmuch as he gives up 320 livings which are now at his disposal. My noble and learned Friend, however, actuated by the very laudable desire to improve the condition of the Church, is willing to make that sacrifice. Many of those livings—if "livings" they can be called—many of those cures have churches which are barely fit for use; most of them have no schools—their condition, in short, is that which might be expected to be the result of the inadequate provision made for the clergyman of the parish. My noble and learned Friend contemplates that those livings may be increased by one-third, or perhaps one-half, their present amount, and may thus be rendered sufficiently remunerative to induce gentlemen of good education to accept them. It has been matter of complaint lately that there is a disinclination on the part of young men of good education to enter the Church. That state of things may arise from various causes. There are, no doubt, certain theological questions and controversies which may embarrass some young men desirous of entering into holy orders; but, at the same time, the smallness of the incomes arising from a great number of these cures is a reason why young men, who think they can do better for themselves in other careers in life, should be disinclined to enter a profession in which the emoluments are so trifling. The details of the measure will be explained by the Bill itself, and I shall therefore abstain from entering into them now; but I am sure the House will concur in the view which has been expressed by all the dignitaries of the Church that the proposal is one which is calculated to promote its interests, that it is honourable to my noble and learned Friend from whom it emanates, and is highly deserving of support.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Viscount Palmerston.)


said, he did not rise to oppose the second reading of this Bill from any factious motives, but he felt impelled to do so from a strong conviction that it erred in principle, and that the subject was one which demanded the consideration of this House. He objected to the Bill, because the principle of it was one which he thought was most dangerous and bad. The noble Lord (Lord Palmerston) had stated that he believed this Bill would promote the interests of the Church of England. He was quite of a different opinion. He believed it would be injurious to the Church of England as well as to the parishioners, because it would be injurious to religion, and because it sanctioned a practice which unfortunately prevailed to a great extent, but which was condemned by the almost universal voice of the Protestant Church. This Bill raised the question of buying and selling livings—and the House was now asked directly to sanction that practice of the Church of England, which was utterly opposed to the spirit of Christianity. A clergyman was an instructor in divine things, he was the preacher of the Gospel, and he was called upon to visit the sick and the dying; and it was monstrous to think that such an office should be sold for money to any man. This was a practice which he was persuaded many excellent clergymen con- demned, and he hoped that the House would not countenance it by passing this measure. But he objected also to the Bill on its merits. The Lord Chancellor proposed to sell the livings in his gift to any person who chose to buy them; but what question did that raise? He looked upon these livings as a kind of trust property, belonging not to the occupant of the Woolsack, but to the different parishes in which the livings were. But the Lord Chancellor intended to convert these livings, which were really public property, held by him in trust for the benefit of the parishes, into private property, and without obtaining any security as to the mode in which the patronage would be exercised. If he was tired of the livings, there were other means of disposing of them; at all events, they should not be handed over to private patrons, who would distribute them among their friends and relatives, without caring to select the best men. The Lord Chancellor was a public functionary, a man of distinction, responsible in some degree for the exercise of his patronage; and that was some security that he would use the livings in his gilt for the benefit of the Church and the country; but there could be no security whatever, the moment the livings passed into the hands of private persons. It was not right that public property should be treated in that manner. The Church of England was a State Church, and as such Parliament should retain its control over it. Private patronage was inconsistent with the very principle of an Established Church. He believed that one reason why there was a want of young men to enter the Christian ministry was the very general use of private patronage in the Church of England, any extension of which patronage was not for the advantage of that Church or the benefit of the clergy. Young men knew, that unless they had some private patron or friend to give them a living, there was little prospect of their attaining a higher position than that of a curate. He thought, that if the Lord Chancellor had consulted the parishes, who were deeply interested in the matter, they would have preferred the patronage remaining in his hands to being sold and handed over to private patrons. If he wished to part with his patronage, it would not have been difficult to have appointed trustees to hold the livings in perpetuity, and to exercise the patronage for the benefit of the various parishes, There were 6,700 livings in the gift of private patronage already, and he objected to the number being augmented. The Lord Chancellor had expressed his hope that the 320 livings would pass into the hands of as many landowners; but there was no security that 320 landowners would buy them, or that, if they did, they would keep them. The Lord Chancellor said he should not feel bound to accept the highest bid. If a landowner bid one sum, and a London banker bid a higher sum, the Lord Chancellor must either prefer the distant to the local patron, or sacrifice the interests of the Church by as much money as the difference between the bid of the landowner and the higher bid of the banker. In truth, the livings might pass into the hands of a Protestant or Papist, of a Conformist or a Nonconformist, and there was nothing in this Bill to prevent it. For these reasons he begged to move that it be read a second time on this day two months.


said, he had much pleasure in seconding the Amendment, and expressed his wonder that the Bill had not, before it reached its present stage, met with greater opposition. He could not allow it to proceed further without entering his protest against the development of that system which he believed to be the greatest blot upon the Church of England—he meant the selling of livings, which, if further extended, would tend towards the downfall of that Church. He considered that taking the patronage in those particular livings out of the hands of a great public functionary and selling them was disapproved of, not only by a large class of the members of the Church, but by a great number of clergymen and by Dissenters themselves. The young men who now entered the Church did so with a firm determination to work hard and do their duty, and he believed that they would refuse to be provided for by livings obtained for them in the manner proposed in the Bill. [Laughter.] He knew instances where such an offer would be refused by clergymen, and he knew landowners who would not engage in such a traffic. On one occasion the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), who fully represented the opinions of the Dissenters with regard to this subject, after speaking of the highest appointment in our Church, said if they left that altitude and came down somewhat lower, the Dissenters would find things which would shock them—out of 10,000 livings there were 5,000 or more in the hands of private persons; and the hon. Gentleman further stated that the Nonconformists believed the system of gelling Church livings was a departure from an original trust which attached to Church patronage, and an offence in the eye of reason and in the sight of Heaven. There was no difference between selling the office and selling the reversion to the office, except that in the latter case there was a great deal of gambling, the advowson being purchased as a provision for a younger son, and the return of interest upon the outlay depending upon the death of the incumbent. That was the opinion the Dissenters held of this system—that was the way in which the Dissenters regarded this great blot on our system which the Bill proposed to increase, and make darker and deeper. There was a great deal of grumbling and uncertainty in this purchasing of advowsons, and in that respect he looked upon the proposition before them as a retrograde step in the Church of England, and one tending to endanger its position. The other night the House had presented to them the picture of an effete institution—which he would not say was dying out, because he believed it had never had any vitality in it—he meant the Church of Ireland. ["Question!"] What was the condition of the Church of England as compared with that of the Church of Ireland? The Church of Ireland contained, he believed, about one-eighth of the population of the country, while in England the Established Church comprised about one-half the population of the country. That was not so strong a position for a Church to be in as to warrant her in refusing to adapt herself to the wants and opinions of the age; and therefore he could not think it a wise movement to bring in this Bill, giving to the Lord Chancellor the power of increasing the traffic in livings by throwing into the market 428 livings. This Bill, however, instead of being a means of reform, was a measure of retrogression. It went in the wrong direction—a direction in which, if they continued, they would ultimately ruin the Church as an Establishment altogether. In no other profession, except the Church and the army, was the system of selling offices tolerated. But in the army the highest appointments were not sold; and he imagined that the sale of a bishopric would be rather too strong a measure even for the friends of this Bill, It was probably supposed that the duties attached to the minor offices in the Church were of so routine a character that it did not much matter who performed them; but in his opinion the incumbency of a parish was a very important trust, which ought to be committed only to a fit man. In the last century clergymen performed their duties with coldness, indifference, and negligence, because they regarded their livings as their freehold property, and he believed that this measure would tend to revive the same state of things. He was afraid it would be impossible to prevent the Bill from being read the second time, but he hoped its clauses would undergo a careful scrutiny in Committee.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day two months."—(Mr. Barnes.)


said, that the noble Lord (Lord Henley) had given a complete caricature rather than a correct description of the system of Church patronage. No such practice as that of selling offices in the Church existed. The thing was un-heard-of, and utterly illegal. What was really sold was the power which a man might possess of instituting or presenting for institution to a certain cure a person who, upon anterior qualifications, had been pronounced by his bishop to be worthy of a cure of souls. It was at his ordination and his institution by his bishop that a clergyman was found worthy of the office for which he was an aspirant. With regard to the 320 livings enumerated in the schedule to this Bill, the question really was, by whom should the office of presentation be exercised. He confessed he should have much preferred that the Lord Chancellor had found it consistent with his duties to find good incumbents for all of them. He must demur to the claim to high praise put forward by the noble Lord at the head of the Government on behalf of his noble and learned Friend in offering these livings to the public at large. Their value was from £100 to £150—a pittance so miserable that nobody cared to accept it. Yet, while the Lord Chancellor reserved to himself the really valuable pieces of patronage intrusted to him, merit was claimed to him because he got rid of all the dross and worthless portion of his patronage. He admitted that these 320 livings might be disposed of in a better manner than by the Lord Chancellor. It would, he thought, be a great boon, both to the parishes and the incumbents, if the patronage of those livings fell into the hands of landed proprietors connected by property with the parishes themselves. Church patronage ought, as far as possible, to be locally connected with property. He conceived that this Bill, properly managed, might be the means of restoring these advowsons to the hands of those who by property, sympathies, and influence, would be by far the best administrators of such trusts. Although he did not think the Bill deserved all the censure cast upon it, he would not be sorry to see it withdrawn, in order that it might be re-introduced in a better form next Session.


said, he had no doubt that the administration of these livings was a great bore to the Lord Chancellor; but he agreed that they ought to be regarded by that noble and learned Lord in the light of a public trust. A Church claiming to be a national Church ought to be administered by the Crown, by the authorities of the Church, or by public authorities of some sort or other. It was a great detraction from the character of the national Church to allow its living to fall into private hands, and upon that ground alone he should oppose the Bill.


said, that the opponents of the Bill confounded two separate and distinct things—the sale of a living or office of trust, and the sale of an advowson or right of patronage. Public opinion was opposed to one, but not to the other. Public opinion would never tolerate that a vacant living should be sold; but in dealing with an advowson or right of patronage the question which arose was whether a transfer of the patronage from the Lord Chancellor to private hands, by means of which great benefit would be conferred upon the parishes for religious purposes, should not be allowed to pass into law. There was great doubt whether a private individual was not a better patron of Church livings than the Lord Chancellor. These livings, they all knew, were very much the objects of political influence; and he thought it objectionable that they should be placed in hands in which they must be so regarded. If the matter was to be regulated de novo, it certainly would be better that Church patronage should not be made the object of political influence. The main object of this Bill seemed to be forgotten, which was to remedy an evil familiar to them all—namely, that in different parts of the Country clergymen were unable, from want of a competency, to reside on their livings; and if it was possible by a legitimate transfer of patronage to increase their livings, and enable clergymen with a fair income to discharge their duties, they would be conferring a benefit on the parishes as well as on the cause of religion, and a great boon on the whole community, instead of violating a principle which the House would never allow. The opposition to this measure was somewhat peculiar, and it had over-looked the benefits which would really be conferred by the Bill. An effort had been made to induce the House to reject the Bill, as if it were founded on a principle which the House would never tolerate, but which was not at all involved in its provisions.

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

The House divided:—Ayes 179; Noes 29: Majority 150.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Monday next.