HC Deb 23 April 1868 vol 191 cc1194-201


Order for Committee read.


in rising to move that the House resolve itself into Committee on this Bill, said that the object of the Bill was to give validity to certain Orders in Council relative to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. Since 1852 eighteen Orders in Council had been made, and those Orders had been submitted to the Law Officers of the Crown, and had gone through the same process as the two which had recently been pronounced invalid by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Under those Orders great changes had been effected, sales of estates had been made, and the position of persons had been altered; and it seemed to him to be only just that Orders, which were not objected to at the time of their being made should not now be challenged. If any persons had felt themselves aggrieved through those Orders, those Orders might have been appealed against at the time of their being issued. The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council had not stated the reasons which had induced them to consider the Orders recently before them as invalid, and as far as his knowledge went, he did not understand the objections were of that character as necessarily to lead to the impression that the Orders were in themselves improper or unreasonable. He had received a letter from the Dean and Chapter of Norwich urging on him to remove the dead lock which the decision of the Privy Council had created. One of the Orders before the Privy Council related to the Dean and Chapter. They stated that they were favourable to it, and that they were ready to submit to it, and that it would, in their opinion, tend to the benefit of the Chapter and the Church alike. It certainly appeared to him that there ought to be some legislation on the subject, because the position of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners had become, to a certain extent, untenable, inasmuch as they could not properly define their position with regard to capitular bodies, or ascertain the course they ought to pursue. They were very desirous that legislation should take place; and he could certainly see no injustice in proposing, as was done by the Bill, that Orders in Council, issued under the Law, and with the advice of the Law Officers of the Crown, should be rendered valid.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. Gathorne Hardy.)


said, he had placed an Amendment on the Paper, that the House should resolve itself into Committee that day six months, not with a view to defeating the Bill, but for the purpose of eliciting a full discussion. The Orders in Council which the Bill proposed to render valid were nothing but Acts of Parliament passed without the Parliamentary discussion to which those Acts were entitled. Not the least objection to the proposed legislation was that it would legalize all the abuses of the old system. In old times the Deans and Chapters systematically neglected the trusts reposed in them, and, thinking only of themselves, put the whole of the money raised under the trusts into their own pockets. Now, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners wanted to give such powers to the Deans and Chapters as would enable them to restore that undesirable state of things; the Commissioners desired to grant certain lands to the Deans and Chapters without taking any guarantee that the proceeds would be rightly dispensed. The grammar schools of Carlisle were entirely dependent on voluntary contributions; whereas he contended that, in accordance with the trusts affecting them, they should be sustained by the funds taken by the Commissioners. Of course, the Commissioners would reply that their business was to attend only to places where spiritual destitution existed, and they could therefore only increase small livings; if that were so, it was the duty of Parliament to amend their powers in accordance with the suggestions of the several Commissions and Committees who had reported on the subject. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman would modify his Bill in this light, and to enable him to do so he moved that the House go into Committee upon it this day six months.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon this day six months, resolve itself itself into the said Committee,"—(Mr. Bentinck,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


said, that though his hon. Friend had had his Notice on the Paper for a considerable time, no real opposition could be offered to the measure. The object of legislation had been to put an end to the abuses of the system under which capitular property had been managed, and if he wanted a strong instance of the advantages to be gained by the extinction of those abuses, he would take the Chapter to which the hon. Member (Mr. Bentinck) had referred. In 1852 the Chapter of Carlisle had a revenue of £6,200 a year, derived from fines. The estates whence it was derived were, in that year, handed over to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and in 1865 the Chapter was re-endowed, and the Commissioners proceeded to consider the claims of the poor livings. Under the new system the members of the Chapter would in future receive an amount fully equal to their former income. In addition to this, a sum of £15,000 had been laid out in the restoration of the Cathedral, and a fund, which if capitalized would be equivalent to £35,000, would be applicable to the future sustentation of the fabric, while to the maintenance of parsonage houses, and the augmentation of livings, a capital sum of £150,000 would be applied. And all this without sixpence loss to the members of the Chapter or the common fund of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. His hon. Friend had altogether mistaken the nature of the Bill; it did not provide for any suppression of Canons. Thai was altogether an imaginary evil which had been conjured up. A legal and technical defect had been pointed out in two recent schemes of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and the sole object of the Bill was to remove doubts, and legalize what had been done in all the previous cases. There was no sort of concealment about the matter. Successive Law Officers of various shades of politics had been cognizant of all that; had been done; inquiries had been repeatedly made by Committees and a Royal Commission; in fact, the proceedings were matters of notoriety throughout the kingdom. Hon. Members had heard that the Chapters and Westminster were anxious to come in; of the remaining six, Durham, Lincolu, St. Paul's, and Hereford were anxious to come in and participate in the benefits of the arrangement; and the only two outstanding and offering opposition to the measure were the Chapters of Ely and Lichfield. The principle of the Bill was perfectly clear, and its object was simply to enable the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to provide for the spiritual destitution of the poor parishes that were scattered throughout the kingdom. He hoped the House would give its consent to the measure.


said, he had listened attentively to the illustration which the hon. and learned Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Bentinck) had given of the devotion of Gentlemen opposite to the abuses of the Established Church; but he thought it inopportune upon an occasion like that to enter upon a consideration of the general question of Cathedral establishments, or of the proceedings generally of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The Bill recited nothing more than that certain errors had been committed which it was expedient to rectify; and in adopting the measure the House was expressing no opinion upon the general question. The time would come when the House would have to consider whether it was just and moral that there should be hundreds of thousands—probably millions—of persons in the country with no more idea of Christianity than the natives of Abyssinia were said to possess, while millions of pounds were spent in assisting a kind of dramatic performance of religion at St. Paul's and other Cathedrals.


said, the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) had rather overstated the case in supporting the Bill. It did not recite that errors had been committed; but that doubts had been raised in consequence of the objections which had been taken to the schemes relative to the Chapters of Westminster and Norwich, which it was desirable to set at rest. The fullest publicity had attended every step that was taken with respect to the Orders it was proposed to declare valid. The Bill by no means stated that an error had existed. All it did was to provide that, in case any errors had been committed in the exercise of the powers of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, no person should suffer, and that the acts of the Commissioners should be valid from, the time they had been done.


said, he had no intention of throwing any obstacle in the way of the passing of the Bill. In fact his only objection to it was that it did not go far enough, as it did not include the two schemes relative to the Chapters of Norwich and Westminster. The Bill ought also to contain a clause regulating the transfer of the estates of the other six Chapters. They ought all to be put on the same footing. He confessed that he could see no reason to doubt that the Orders in Council had the same force as the Act itself. He thought that 3 & 4 Vict. c. 113, was clear on that point, and he should like to hear from the Law Officers the grounds of the decision at which the Judicial Committee had arrived.


said, the Bill was of a very beneficent nature, and he should be sorry to see any obstacle thrown in the way of passing it. The opposition to it, more especially at that time, was very inopportune. The question, stripped of its technicalities, was substantially one between the wealthy Chapters and the great Cathe- dral churches on the one hand, and the churches of the working clergy on the other; and as the House had decided by a majority of 60 that the Irish Church was to be disestablished, it behoved those who had a regard for the Established Church in England to make her endowments available in the highest degree possible for the promotion of those objects which it was the office of a Church to promote, They all knew the self-denying labours of the parochial clergy; but when they came to the Cathedrals they found vast endowments and but little work. The annual income of the Cathedrals, apart from the sums received by the Bishops, was, some years ago, £300,000. It was not less than £200,000 at the present time. He did not believe that, without endowments, it was possible to maintain for centuries an extensive ecclesiastical system; but he also believed there was no Establishment, however well endowed, which might not find room for the voluntary system. The working clergy had found that they were much aided by voluntary efforts. He believed that no less benefit would flow from resort to the same source of help in the case of the Cathedrals. Where the Cathedral authorities had thrown themselves on the people there was a ready response. The Cathedrals then ceased to be—what they had so much become — mere monuments of the past, but were crowded by throngs of willing and grateful worshippers.


said, he presumed that neither the hon. Member for Whitehaven nor any other hon. Member meant to oppose the passing of the Bill, because justice to parties affected by Orders in Council required that it should become law. He rose, however, to ask his right hon. Friend (Mr. G. Hardy) a question of some importance—namely, whether, if the powers of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were not then sufficient they, should not be enlarged for the purpose of dealing with those Chapters which they had not yet dealt with? Anyone acquainted with the subject must know that nothing could be worse than the management of those ecclesiastical estates under the old system. It was for the interest of the Chapters and lessees, and public at large, that this worst possible management should in all cases be put an end to. As the Ecclesiastical Commission, and the large means in their hands, afforded an opportunity of getting rid of that mode of managing property, it would be most unwise of Parliament if it did not confer upon the Commissioners power to deal with such of the estates of the Chapters as were not now within their control. Perhaps that could not be done in the Bill before the House; but he hoped the Government would legislate on the subject in another Bill before the close of the present Session. Such a Bill need not consist of more than one clause.


said, he would express a hope that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary would accede to the appeal which had been addressed to him by his right hon. Friend behind him.


said, he would appeal to the hon. Member for Whitehaven (Mr. Bentinck), in the interest of those who were the purchasers of property from the Ecclesiastical Commissioners since 1852, when the first of the Orders in Council was passed, to withdraw his opposition. An immense mass of property had been sold under those Orders, not only in York but in other dioceses, and it would be unjust to the present owners if the Bill did not pass. He was also in favour of extending the powers of the Commission to the other Cathedrals.


said, he was very anxious that the question to which the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock had referred should be settled if possible. Parliament seemed to have practically laid down, by having accepted what had been done for many years past, the process which ought to be adopted. Therefore the simple question to be considered—and that was the only point on which he felt any difficulty—was the manner in which a measure on the subject should be drafted in order to make the matter perfectly clear. If such a Bill could be prepared, and he thought it could, he should certainly be most happy to bring it forward.


said, he would withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 (Orders in Council specified in the Schedule to be valid).


said, that after the declaration of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary he should not move the Amendment of which he had given notice.


stated, that for the same reason he would not proceed with the Amendment which stood in his name.

Clause agreed to.


said, he wished to move an Amendment in the Schedule to the effect that the Bill should apply to the Orders relating to certain benefices reputed to be in the patronage of the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol as well as to the Orders referring to the estates of the Dean and Chapter of Bristol.


said, he hoped the hon. Member would not press his Amendment.


said, the decision of the Privy Council did not throw any doubt on the validity of the Orders affecting the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol. He might mention that, in accordance with the usual practice of the Privy Council in such cases, the grounds on which they held certain Orders to be bad had not been stated.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

House resumed.

Bill reported, without Amendment; to be read the third time To-morrow.