HC Deb 23 April 1873 vol 215 cc878-82

Order for Second Reading read.


Sir, this is a Bill on which I do not think there will be any necessity for me to detain the House with a very long statement, for it is simply a Permissive Bill, and its sole object is to let loose private benevolence. If there is no one to come forward in accordance with its provisions to endow canonries, then the Bill will be a dead letter; but if people do come forward, then a vent will be found for that benevolence which, under the provisions and limitations of the Bill, no one can say would be extreme or calculated to do injury to any interest either of the Church or of Nonconformity. The question of the cathedrals, as the House knows, has often been before the public. All the cathedrals of England were reconstituted on a diminished establishment by the Act 3 & 4 Vict. c. 113, by which, and by some amended statutes afterwards passed, they are at present regulated. But, in the meantime, the practical value of cathedrals, not merely as Corinthian capitals, not merely as ornamental institutions, or as an easy means of giving a stipend to a clergyman after a life of hard work, but rather as working institutions, had become more generally known, and in the year 1852 a Commission was appointed to report upon a scheme of cathedral reform. That Commission issued three Reports, with bulky appendices, in the years 1854 and 1855; but the recommendations of the Commissioners have ever since, generally speaking, remained a dead letter. I do not propose to revive them, but I may explain that in my Bill there is nothing contrary to them. The Bill, of which I now move the second reading; takes the form of one to amend a certain clause in the Act 3 & 4 Vict., c. 113. By that measure, whilst there was a large suspension of canonries in all the cathedrals of the land, the canonries being, as a general rule, reduced to only four per cathedral with two or three exceptions, such as Canterbury, Ely, and Christ Church, Oxford, a power was reserved to revive canonries in three ways—namely, a disposition by the cathedral of a portion of any surplus revenue which they might still hold, provided the amount which they handed over to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners was not diminished; or by a private endowment which, in the case of lands and real property, was expressly limited to £200 a-year; or, lastly, by the annexation of a benefice to one of the suspended canonries. In dividing the clause in the manner I have done, and in assuming that those three processes are alternative, I am supported by a strong opinion, no less than that of the present Attorney General, who, I believe, as a matter of notoriety, did give an opinion to that effect to a Bishop who desired recently to revive two canonries in his Cathedral. However, the clause in the Act of Victoria is simply ambiguous in its wording, and it is therefore read by some persons as providing that a slight endowment on the part of a Chapter must be a necessary antecedent. Now, I do not think that the right interpretation of the clause. Still, there is the ambiguity; and by way of getting over it I deal with that interpretation as if it were the right one, and I start in my Bill by positive enactment to establish the contrary, and, as I believe, the true interpretation of the Act. So much, then, for the general framework of my Bill. But what is my object in proposing the measure? Is it to provide an additional number of feather beds for aged clergymen? By no means. I look upon our cathedrals as eminently working institutions. They are working institutions; but they may be and ought to be made more working institutions. They come in as a supplement to our admirable parochial system; that system which is doing a great deal but cannot do everything. In our large towns, with their vast masses of ever-growing heathenism, we want a body of missionary clergymen to go and preach, and the adaptation within our Church of something akin to the "Revival system," under proper regulations. That system can be best provided by a body of missionary clergymen, not attached to any particular parish, but under orders to go and work wherever they are required. There are other duties, and amongst them there is, in particular, the inspection of Church Schools in religious teaching, since general inspection has by the Elementary Education Act, become a purely lay procedure, while the Church still wants its religious inspection. Again, there is the training of parish choirs, as well as many other things which good and generous people may wish to endow, and cannot except by setting up private institutions at a great cost and under cumbrous trust deeds, and with the perpetual risk of their becoming extravagant in their views and practices, and thus defeating the objects of those who set them up. I desire, therefore, to untie private beneficence and to provide a way for endowing these offices under due regulations. Just as the creation of processes for the endowment of new parishes proved to be the regeneration of our parochial system, and has sown broadcast thousands of churches, each with its minister and means of grace, so I believe it would be equally safe and equally salutary to untie beneficence in regard to our cathedrals, and to let good Christians supplement the parochial organization by the endowment of canonries, with specific duties attached, in the manner I propose by this Bill. In form, I propose to permit canonries being revived or created without specific duties. But I do not contemplate any such use of the measure being made. There is no fear of its producing any ex- travagant results; for no canonry can be endowed under the Bill without running the gauntlet; first, of a man being found who is ready to endow a canonry; secondly, of its having the approbation of the visitor, who is the Bishop of the diocese; next, the approbation of the Chapter, a body who will be very jealous of any alterations in its constitution; subsequently the approbation of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners who always look sharp enough after matters in which they are concerned; and lastly, the approbation of the Queen in Council, that is of the Government of the day. All these checks are, I think, sufficient to make the Bill perfectly safe. In the original Act, endowments in land were limited to £200 a year; but owing to the jealousy with which the tying up of land in mortmain is now regarded, I do not propose to allow any further facilities for endowments in land but only in money. Any fears on that head, therefore, are unnecessary. The original Act is only operative for the revival of suspended canonries in cathedrals where there are canonries which have been suspended. In many cathedrals there are not only suspended canonries, but there are non-residentiary prebends or honorary canonries. In such cases I proceed with the same machinery to convert such non-residentiary prebend or canonry into a substantial canonry. In other cases, where none of these are available, I propose that a new canonry should be instituted. With regard to the new Canon's position in the Chapter, it may be sometimes desirable that he should stand upon the same level as the old Canons. In other cases that may be undesirable, and there he may be simply declared an accessory and stipendiary member. But in reference to all these cases my Bill is perfectly elastic, and the scheme provides for every possible position of a Canon, from that of equality with the existing Chapter to that of stipendiary; and each scheme will have to be drawn up pro re nata to suit the circumstances of each particular case. There is only one other point, and that is to explain the 5th clause, the terms of which have been commented upon in some quarters. It provides that— No Canonry re-established, additionally established, or converted from a non-residentiary Prebend under this Act, shall without special provision to that effect in the plan be capable of annexation by way of endowment to an Arch-deaconry. Now the requirements of the Act 3 & 4 Vict. proceeded too much on the basis that a canonry is a sinecure office, whereas my Bill proceeds on the basis that canonries ought all to be working offices. This clause, therefore, simply provides that a canonry which has been set up for some specific object such as the support of missionary preaching, should not be diverted from that object and converted to the endowment of an Archdeacon. I do not prevent one being specifically set up for the purpose, I rather invite it. I think, then, that this 5th clause, though not of the essence of the Bill, is at any rate a desirable addition to it. This then, Sir, is the Bill I propose to the House. It may have an extensive operation, and I shall be glad if it has, for that extensive operation would be one for the spread of the Gospel in the dark places of the land, and would tend to make our venerable cathedrals real centres of Christian life and light to the benighted millions. That being so, I commend it to the House as a measure of sound reform; of reform that does not tax the public a single farthing, but rests upon the broad basis of private munificence. On the other hand it may have only a slight operative value, but even in that case it is a measure that will be wholesomely available here and there. In no case can it do any harm, or introduce any difficulty into the working of the existing system. I beg leave then, to move that this Bill be read a second time.

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


said, on the part of the Government he had no objection to the Bill. There was no doubt that some of the sections of the Bill referred to were ambiguous and open to exception, yet it seemed reasonable that persons should be allowed to make endowments for canons; and he had no doubt the creation of canonries would be in many cases very useful to the Church, and might, to some extent, supplement the activity she had lately shown. Seeing no objection to the scheme of the hon. Member, he would not oppose the Bill.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Friday.