HC Deb 15 July 1873 vol 217 cc447-59

in rising to move That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying that She will appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the amount and application of the revenues of the Church of England and into the system of parochial benefices, with a view to the better adjustment of parishes and incomes, and the amendment of the Law relating to patronage, said, that his Motion was a necessary result of the decision of the House upon the Motion of the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Miall). By that Motion the House had been asked to resign all control over the Church of England. This, it had refused to do by a very large majority, and, surely, if they were not prepared to give up control, they were bound to do the work of control efficiently. He accepted, but in no humiliating sense, what the hon. Member for Bradford had said—that the National Church belonged to the State as the Army, Navy, and Civil Service did; that the House was bound to exercise authority over it; and that, if the House did not, no other power could. Convocation and synods were trying to do so, but they were not acknowledged by the country. He contended that it was the duty of the House to exercise its control over the patronage and discipline of the Church of England, and so prevent ecclesiastical matters in general falling into ecclesiastical hands, because at this present time in every country in Europe the ecclesiastical powers were endeavouring to assert their authority against the civil powers in these matters. The House ought either to give up its power or to make it real; and if the House would do its duty in this matter it would place England in a position which would be the envy of other countries that were disturbed by ecclesiastical controversies. His Motion dealt with abuses that were vehemently attacked by Nonconformists, and of which no Churchman could deny the existence. The first was the flagrantly unequal distribution of the revenues of the Church. He wished to obtain authoritatively information on this subject, as to which we had now nothing but the vague result of personal inquiry. There was no other power but Parliament that could really ascertain the facts, and one of their first duties was to supply the public with accurate information in reference to Church revenues. As an instance of the grievous inequality which existed under the present system he would refer to one rural deanery, by no means au exceptional one. In this deanery there were 23 livings, of these the eight largest had a total income of £8,000 a-year, with church accommodation for only 3,233 persons, while the 15 smaller livings had a total income of only £2,012 a-year, with church accommodation for 6,097 persons. The result was that with half the population and half the church accommodation the eight richer livings had four times the income of the other 15 livings. Such inequalities surely called for some action on the part of the House and of the Government. The Ecclesiastical Commission had furnished with reference to capitular estates precisely the kind of information which he asked the House to offer to the country with respect to the other temporalities of the Church. As to parochial and other portions of the revenue of the Church, they had no official and reliable information since the Commission of 1832; but, in the meantime, the number of benefices had increased by 5,000; and, on the other hand, there had been a great shifting of population. Proper statistical Returns were urgently required. That private persons could not obtain them was beyond question. At the request of the Church Reform Association, the Rev. Mr. Fowle had devoted much time to the inquiry; but had confessed that the results he arrived at could not be relied on as accurate. On his assumption that a population of 300 was enough to give active work to a single clergyman, and that £200 a-year was the lowest on which he could live properly, the inquiries he instituted brought out the following results: — There were 409 livings in which there was neither work, nor food; 1,141 in which there was food, but no work; and 3,032 in which there was work, but no food. It certainly was time that these anomalies should be inquired into and redressed. Another point was the question of patronage. Convocation which represented the Church complained of the manner in which patronage was at present exercised, and recommended certain proposals which would remedy the existing grievous system. It was, he thought, important that the House should take the matter up and deal with these recom- mendations. In 1867, out of 12,088 benefices in the Church of England, as many as 6,403, or more than one half, were in private hands. His Motion affected only the temporalities and lands of the Church, and he thought it was time that the House undertook to deal, at any rate, with that part of the subject. There was no way at present of getting at the value of those temporalities. They were estimated—tithes and rentals—at £1,949,000; lands acquired since the Reformation, £2,251,051; voluntary collections and other items of income, £5,445,000; making a total of over £9,645,500. Other estimates, of course, were very different; but he gave those which appeared to have been the most carefully worked out. It appeared from that, that it was computed that nearly £10,000,000 a-year was allowed by the House to be used, and to remain in a form which all members of the Church of England who took an interest in that subject agreed to be one of great abuse, and. unfortunate for the Establishment itself. Therefore, whether for the removal of scandal from the Church, whether as a step towards her reform on the one hand, or towards her disestablishment on the other, there was the strongest ground for obtaining either by a Commission, or in some other way, such statistics and details as he asked for by his Motion, with a view to Parliament making that control and supervision a reality which it had so peremptorily refused to give up. He would admit that what the Ecclesiastical Commissioners had done in regard to collecting information and raising the smaller livings, was good as far as it went; but it was quite inadequate to meet the real requirements of the case. The hon. Member concluded by moving for the Address.


I am glad, Sir, that my hon. and learned Friend has had the opportunity of bringing forward his Motion, and more especially because he has thus raised the whole question of Church patronage. As I have given some little attention to this subject, perhaps the House will permit me to supplement my hon. and learned Friend's facts by a few others. And, in the first place, with regard to the number of livings which are actually at this moment in the market and in the hands of agents for sale, I had the curiosity the other day to take up a number of The Ecclesiastical Gazette—an organ which I think The Saturday Review assures us is the official paper of the Bishops. The first name of an advertising agent which I found in the columns of this paper—May 13th—was that of Mr. Ancona, of John Street, Adelphi. I procured his register of livings for sale, and found that it contained particulars of 94 advowsons and next presentations. Returning to the Gazette, I found Mr. Lava's monthly selection of Church property—namely, eight advowsons and next presentations. Then came Mr. Stark's advertisement. His register for May contains about 180 advowsons, next presentations, district churches, and Episcopal chapels for sale. He states on the cover, that— He begs to remind intending purchasers that he has always many desirable, and—in some cases—cheap livings passing through his hands privately," and he also "takes this opportunity of reminding clients of the absolute necessity there exists, whenever a parish is visited, of the object of these visits being kept strictly private. The House therefore may imagine this intending purchaser—this successor of the Apostles, prowling like a poacher about the future scenes of his ministratrations, peeping like an area sneak into the windows of the capital rectory house; but, above all things, taking up a retired but commanding position in the parish church, from which, during Divine service, he may take stock of the age and infirmities of the incumbent. The next advertisement is Mr. Corbett's. Mr. Corbett's list contains 46 advowsons and next presentations. Then we come to Mr. Bagster's monthly register of church preferments for sale for May—104 advowsons and next presentations. Then to the advertisement of The Church and School Gazette, conducted by graduates of Oxford and Cambridge. The Rev. W. Powell Jones, who edits this Gazette, informs us that he has 700 livings on his books, but on procuring his register, I find particulars of only 114. He prefaces his list by the observation, that— It was held by a very eminent Prelate, lately deceased, that 'you might just as well call the buying and selling of a vacant living magic, as call it after the folly of Simon Magus.' Now, adding the 15 isolated advertisements of the sale of livings, which are to be found in this copy of The Ecclesiastical Gazette to the advertisements of livings contained in the various registers which I have named, we arrive at 561 as the number of livings which are advertised for sale in one number of this paper. There are 13,276 livings in the country, of which 21 are in the gift of the parishioners themselves, 580 are in the gift of trustees, 4,800 in that of the Crown, the Bishops, deans, and chapters, the Universities, and so forth, leaving about 7,900, of the annual value of some £2,000,000, in private hands. So that about one-fourteenth of the saleable patronage of the Church is up in the market at the same time. But perhaps I shall be told—such is the eagerness of vendors to effect sales—that they sometimes employ more than one agent. Very well. Let us set the duplicate advertisements against the private sales to which frequent reference is made by the agents, and we still have 561 as the number of livings for sale. But, I contend that we are entitled to add largely to this number from the lists of livings advertised for exchange. Exchange in this connection is a prettier word than sale. Many livings are advertised "for sale with an exchange of preferment." For example, Mr. Ancona advertises— Advowson, Western County. Price, with possession, £13,000; but if preferred, the incumbent would accept in reduction of such purchase money the presentation to an eligible living of, say, £600 nett. Not long ago a clergyman applied to all the agents whose names he could learn about a living for exchange, and in every case he received in reply particulars of livings for sale. Suppose that an agent published only one list of livings, which was headed "For exchange," and that several of his advertisements appeared in the lists of other agents as those of livings for sale; suppose, further, that when you applied for this list, you received along with it a paper, headed, "Particulars of Church preferment for sale or exchange," in which the space left blank for "Price asked for advowson, or next presentation," precedes that for "Particulars, if for exchange;"—now this is a fact, there is such a register—and what is the inference which anyone would draw? Is it not that this decorous register of livings for exchange is virtually a register of livings for sale? But if the House will reflect, they will see that an exchange has always more or less of the nature of a sale about it. And that that is the view taken by the agents is evident, for while they charge only one commission in the case of a sale, in the case of an exchange they charge two—one to each party to the transaction. Well, I infer from all this that we are entitled, if we please, to add largely to the number of livings for sale which I have given. Now, as to the actual business done. Mr. Bagster advertises a register of purchasers 300 strong. Mr. Stark begs to announce that in consequence of the very large number of sales during the last few months, he is at the present time somewhat short of preferments to meet the demands of the numerous bonâ fide purchasers who are looking to him for preferments; and, in the same number of this Gazette he states that his sales, since the last issue, are 10 in number. Now, if Mr. Stark is generally as successful, and the other agents are equally fortunate in proportion to the number of livings which they advertise, I calculate that at that rate the whole saleable Establishment would be turned over in less than 19 years. Now, let us turn to the advertisements themselves. They constitute a valuable contribution to the history of our manners and customs, affording as they do indisputable evidence with regard to the tastes and habits of that most important class—the clergy. A gentleman has carefully analyzed 400 of their advertisements, He found "good society" in 107; e.g.—" Rector of this parish has the entrée of the best county society," "good society and no squire"—"in this parish are five gentlemen's houses, two of them belonging to, and occupied by, a baronet and an admiral." Beautiful scenery appears in 53, fishing in 31, shooting in nine, hunting in six, and rookeries in three. Stabling is a great item. There is stabling for eight horses in one case, for seven in another, for six in four, for five in five, &c. Then there is the health and ago of the incumbent. "Incumbent about 80, and in a very precarious state of health, so that an early sale is desired." "Population, 1,800; annual value, £1,800; incumbent (the advertiser), aged 58;" but he is, it is believed, in a very bad state of health. Then comes smallness of population. "Population under 100, duty nominal." "Almost a sinecure, popu- lation under 100, income £400." "Almost a sinecure, single service and no school." A Lancashire rectory is advertised—"No cure of souls; incumbent 77 and non-resident; £450 per annum." One in Shropshire—"Stables for five horses; net income £800; population 1,740; duty only on every alternate Sunday." There are some items of intelligence which one might think would find a place in these advertisements, which are "conspicuous by their absence." Out of the whole 400, only 14 contain any reference to religious views. Three High Churchmen are wanted, and 11 Evangelicals. The owner of a Yorkshire vicarage was evidently born far north. He says—"High Church; but Evangelical would do for this parish." The owner of a Dorsetshire vicarage is a real man of business. "The incumbent, on his furniture being taken for 400 guineas, would get his successor presented to the incumbency." Now, perhaps, the House would like to know who these gentlemen are who cater so pleasantly for the clerical appetite. Well, I must refer them to four admirable letters, signed "Promotion by Merit," which appeared in The Manchester Examiner last winter, and have been re-published. The writer of those letters was able, by means of The Clergy List, to identify 43 vendors in Mr. Stark's list for October. I have always heard that the aristocracy are averse to trade; but this evidently does not apply to trade in all its branches, for one Duke, one Marquess, two Earls, a Dowager Marchioness, a Countess, a Baron, not to mention two Baronets, figure in the list. I will only name one—the noble President of the National Free and Open Church Association—the Earl of Shrewsbury. At the anniversary of that Society last year, his Lordship remarked that "It was the duty of Churchmen to endeavour to leave Mr. Miall and his friends no tangible ground for attacks upon the Church," and he offers the next presentation of Burghfield, Berks, "with a capital rectory-house, glebe, and a tithe rent-charge, amounting to about £1,120 per annum." But, Sir, it sometimes happens that the agents do not effect a sale. The case is urgent; the incumbent is very old; or perhaps it is thought that the best price is likely to be obtained by a healthy public competition. Then the living is put up to auc- tion. During the last 12 months four parish churches have been put up at Liverpool, St. Ann's, St. Paul's, St. Catherine's, and St. Philip's. In this last case a clergyman is the seller, and he offers the "valuable advowson of St. Philip's, of the value of £400 to £500, with prospect of an increase." "Thee Church enjoys the privilege of marrying from all parts of the town." Ovington was put up at the Auction Mart, Token-house Yard, on March 19th. The patron and rector, Rev. C. Fisher, advertised "Capital hunting, fishing, and good society; capital rectory-house, coach-house, stabling, green-house, and good water." He said that he had reached the advanced age of 53. Somehow or other this age did not appear to the spiritual speculator so advanced as it appeared to him, and there was no sale. Trehaverock, in Cornwall, was put up on April 3rd. Trehaverock presents many modest attractions. There is no duty, no residence required, and the parsonage seems to be usefully occupied as a public-house. On Ash Wednesday, thanks to the vote of this House, hon. Members had the opportunity of adjourning to Tokenhouse Yard to see the Church transact her temporal business. Two livings were put up on that day. Dodbrook in South Devon and Falmouth. The age of the incumbent of Dodbrook, was asserted in the advertisements to be 68. He wrote, however, before the sale to say that it was only 56, and though— The parish and neighbourhood afford excellent society, and the general state of Church feeling is good, there being but one Dissenting place of worship in the parish, that announcement acted as a fatal damper, and there was no sale. By an Act of Charles II—into the origin and details of which, perhaps, we had better not minutely inquire, because that Prince had a good many odd people about him, whom he was anxious to reward, and had odd ways of rewarding them—a rate of 16d. in the pound is directed to be levied for the parson of Falmouth and his successors for ever on all houses, shops, warehouses, cellars, and outhouses within the parish of Falmouth. With tithe and harbour clues that rate amounts to about £1,700 per annum. Last year the living fell vacant, a gentleman of 77 was appointed, and the living thrown on the market. It was bought in at the sale. The last instance which I shall give is that of Hilgay, in Norfolk; of the annual value of nearly £1,420. This living was offered for sale on May 20th, and along with an hon. Friend of mine I visited the Auction Mart at the time appointed. The auctioneer informed us that of late years that kind of property had become the most difficult to deal with of any which they had to deal with then, owing to the attacks which the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Arian) had made upon the Church, but, he added after the speech of the Prime Minister the other night, we shall hear no more of disestablishment for many a long day. He has evidently formed a different opinion from that of the Bishop of Peterborough, who, in reference to the same event, warned the Diocesan Conference at Leicester "not to put their trust in Princes, or in politicians, or in Premiers." But with regard to Hilgay, the living fell vacant last year, and the rev. Canon St. Vincent Beeshey was appointed. When he took leave of his old parishioners last October, he spoke of the Grace of the Great Shepherd and Bishop of Souls which had disposed the kindly hearts and generous impulses of patrons to seek the best spiritual superintendence they could obtain for the people they are called upon to provide for:" and of his own preferment as "coming from the spontaneous desire of a faithful widowed patron to carry out her husband's own desire that his people be ministered to by a successor in their curate. Poor charitable but withal, misguided Canon! He did not know, that it was not the fact that 40 years before he had been curate in the parish, but the accumulated experience of 67 years which made him so valuable an acquisition; that the living was ordered to be sold by the will of his predecessor; and that his 67 years would be made more of at the sale than even the "good dining-rooms, wines and beer cellars, piggeries, and stabling for eight horses." Now, Sir, I know that, as my hon. Friend has said, the Bishops condemn all this sort of thing. "The sale of a living is a scandal, an evil, an abuse of a high and solemn trust," says the Bishop of Manchester. But who preaches loudest the Bishop of Manchester or the Archdeacon of Sudbury, who sells the advowson of Yalding, in Kent, "net income, say, £1,950, incumbent 72, price £13,000, of which £7,000 must be paid down?" And of all the Bishops who con- demn, one only—so far as I know, has any material remedy to suggest, and that is the Bishop of Exeter. He proposes to throw the burden of the redemption of patronage on the Ecclesiastical Commissioners—in other words, to hand over to rich patrons funds set apart to meet the wants of poor districts; and that is a remedy which I think will scarcely meet with much favour in this House. Failing the Bishops we turn to my hon. and learned Friend. What is the remedy which he has proposed tonight? To prohibit the sale of next presentations. My hon. and learned Friend is a man of sound sense. Where then does he get his credulity? Is he not acquainted with the history of the Church in relation to patronage? Does he not know that advowsons will be sold with a verbal agreement that they will be handed back or re-sold the moment that the desired appointment is made? Failing then the Bishops, and failing my hon. and learned Friend, where shall we turn for a remedy? Shall we turn to the Chancellor of the Exchequer? Will he come down to the House some day very early in April, and ask us to tax the people, in order that we may abolish purchase in the Church, as we have abolished purchase in the Army? Or will the Church herself come to the rescue? Will members of the Church assemble in Exeter Hall—say, under the presidency of the Earl of Shrewsbury, or the Archdeacon of Sudbury— and subscribe £10,000,000 sterling in order to wipe out this scandal? No, Sir, there is only one alternative—keep your State Church, and keep with it that system of patronage upon which it is founded, and which is firmly built into its structure. Do away with your State Church, and at the same time get rid for ever of a system which sears the public conscience, lowers the whole national conception of religion, and poisons at its source the fountain of sweetness and light.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying. that She will appoint a Royal Commission to inquire into the amount and application of the revenues of the Church of England and into the system of parochial benefices, with a view to the better adjustment of parishes and incomes and the amendment of the Law relating to patronage,"—(Mr. Thomas Hughes.)


said, the speech of the hon. Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Leatham) was, no doubt, very amusing and imaginative, and redolent with some of the wildest and most rollicking statistics he had ever heard applied in that House, and when applied to the solemn subject on which they were engaged, he considered it did great credit to his literary powers. He (Mr. B. Hope) thought they should trust in this matter to the revived spirit of religion, the influence of public opinion, and the activity of the Church. The crude invention of a Commission, hastily appointed in a thin House, was not the remedy to apply to the state of things to which the hon. and learned Member for Frome had drawn attention, and the existence of which he (Mr. B. Hope) would admit. Besides, who was to appoint the Commission—the Government, the Opposition, both together, or the two Houses of Convocation. A Commission appointed by either one or other of those bodies would not command public confidence, while the result of their labours must end in their issuing a sterile Report upon the subject. In any case, it must be greatly hampered in discharging its task.


said, he must remind the House that the last speaker had entirely begged the question, and had not controverted any of the facts adduced. For himself, he would rather trust the honour of the Church to a Commission than to those persons who were trying to stifle discussion on the flagrant scandal of the sale of livings. The thinness of the House was no reason for refusing a Commission. As a Churchman, he trembled for the Church, more on account of the abuses which existed within it and its increasing dissensions and schisms than on account of the attacks of the hon. Member for Bradford. There were, no doubt, great difficulties to be got over; but the abuse of selling livings for the cure of souls ought to be got rid of in one way or another. He lived in a parish the livings of which had been put up for sale several times, and deplored the evils which attended that system. If that was the way in which livings in the Church of England were to be disposed of, he was afraid evil consequences would follow. If any remedial action were proposed to be adopted, necessarily the first demand would be for facts, and therefore the inquiry should be granted.


said, he sympathized with the object the hon. and learned Member for Frome had in view; but he objected to his Motion on the ground that there was already available, without the proposed inquiry, sufficient information for all practical purposes as regarded doing away with all the existing evils complained of. He regretted, therefore, he could not vote with the hon. and learned Member. He considered it would be the worst possible thing that could happen to the Church if they took away the great prizes that existed in the shape of the rich livings of the country, offering as they did to members of the Church the only inducements to elevate themselves in its service. He also believed that it was essential that lay patronage should exist, and that the advowson should always go with the land. The person holding the advowson held it in trust for the public benefit, and on that consideration he could not support the sale of the advowson any more than he would support the sale of a vote.


said, he had no doubt that the object of the hon. and learned. Member for Frome in proposing the Motion was to benefit the Church. Although he sympathized with his hon. and learned Friend in his wish that the fullest information should be obtained on this subject, he could not help thinking that his statement was overcharged. His hon. and learned Friend should have remembered what progress had been made with reference to this subject in the last 40 years. Since that time the property of Bishops, of chapters, and ecclesiastical corporations had been very largely and very wisely dealt with, and great good had been done in distributing the wealth of the Church among the poorer districts. He doubted whether any action of Parliament could have effected greater progress than had been effected in that period by the action of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. He thought the information as to the value of ecclesiastical livings could be obtained without a Royal Commission. As to the question of patronage, he thought Parliament would not desire that that matter should be inquired into unless it was also prepared to deal with it. His hon. Friend opposite had proposed a remedy; but he did not think the House was prepared to enter into the question of patronage. If they abolished patronage, what system could they substitute for it? They should observe what was occurring in Scotland, and meanwhile his hon. and learned Friend should remember that there were defects in all systems. He thought that with so little prospect of serious Parliamentary action the House should not entrust so important a subject to a Commission. But he was willing to undertake, in conjunction with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to ascertain what means of obtaining information could be placed in the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commission, as to the number of livings, the amount of property, and the other information sought by his hon. and learned Friend's Motion.


said, he was thankful for small mercies, so on the understanding that his right hon. Friend would arrange for extending the inquiries of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to parochial revenues, he would withdraw his Motion.

Question put, and negatived.