HC Deb 21 February 1877 vol 232 cc755-70

Order for Second Reading read.


in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that its object was a reform of the procedure of the Ecclesiastical Courts, which had already occupied the attention of the Legislature for many years. The laws regulating these Courts and their fees rested on nearly 100 statutes, and almost all the 11 Bills to reform them which had been brought in at different times included the substance of the present Bill. Most of those Bills seemed to have failed because they attempted to deal at one stroke with a subject so wide and so complicated that it was not possible for any general agreement of the House to be reached in a single Session. What had been accomplished, which was much, was effected by dealing successively with separate parts of the whole. In this way ecclesiastical jurisdiction had been settled; and the part which remained was the procedure in non-contentious business, and the instruments, licences, and remuneration of officers in granting and registering those instruments. The difficulties and abuses that had arisen from time to time with respect to these things were so notorious that he need not dwell on that part of the subject. As long ago as 1832 a Royal Commission was appointed to inquire into them, which recommended a reduction of the fees and offices; and in 1850 a Committee of that House took evidence and made various recommendations. Amongst them was the following:— Your Committee have found from the whole of the evidence submitted to them that the sage precautions of the ancient civil and ecclesiastical laws against undue exactions of fees and the multiplication of offices have been practically disregarded; and your Committee recommend that payment of fees should be replaced by fixed salaries throughout the ecclesiastical establishments. No steps, however, were taken to give effect to that recommendation; and it appeared, from the Returns of the years following, that in 90 cases the official duties of registrars were performed by deputies; that 17 minors had been appointed registrars; that two ladies held the office, one of whom had been appointed at the early age of five years; and another registrar was insane. The office was held by patent for life, and it was practically impossible to remove the holders even for incapacity and misconduct. In the diocese of Bristol the deputy registrar made no distinction in his charges in Common Law business between what was due to him as an officer of the Court and his professional charges as a proctor. In other dioceses there was no table of fees, and in one diocese the chancellor had doubled all the fees, because he thought they were too small before. In that of Durham the public paid fees for the service of the registrar, who did no part of the business, and then had to pay also the deputy who did the work. In Rochester the office of registrar was formerly held by two clergymen, who each took a third of the fees, and the remaining third went to the deputy, who did all the work. In Bath and Wells the visitation fees which were due from each parish in the diocese were divided between the chancellor, the apparitor general, the registrar, the deputy registrar, and the deputy apparitor general. In 1869 another table was framed in which fees were granted to the secretary. The fees on collations, institutions, and licences received by the secretaries were larger than those of the registrars. Although the chief part of the judicial business had been removed from these Ecclesiastical Courts, the number of officers had not been diminished, and they made large charges, in addition to their fees, for small benefits conferred. The first of the two leading objects of the Bill was to reduce the number of officers to what was at present required; the second related to arrangements for their remuneration. The number of officers was obviously excessive. In one single diocese he had ascertained that the number of officers was 32. The work which was divided between them could be properly performed by two persons, the chancellor and the registrar, but the Bill contemplated its being done by four, the chancellor, the registrar, the secretary, and the apparitor; and taking the average of the officers in the various dioceses, the number of offices might be fairly and properly reduced without any disadvantage to a fourth of the number at present existing. The Bill contained a list of the officers in its Schedule who were to continue, the duties of the others being transferred to the offices which were retained. The changes necessary would be brought about as vacancies arose, no present holder of an office being disturbed in it. Commissaries would be abolished altogether, except as a mere temporary appointment made for special occasions. There was no security under the present system that a person appointed to discharge duties was fit by either experience or training to do so, but future appointments would not be permitted to be performed by deputies. The Bill would therefore provide a remedy in that respect. The officials of archdeacons would be abolished, and their duties transferred to diocesan officers, an arrangement which was not open to objection. But the important proposal of the Bill was that henceforth all payments should be made not by fees but by salaries, and for the purpose of apportioning regular salaries the fees must be paid into a common fund, which would be under the direction and responsibility of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. These fees must be received by stamps, as the safest and easiest mode of taking no less and no more than was due; but where unforeseen difficulties might arise, it was provided that Rules and Orders might be issued by the Privy Council for dispensing with the use of stamps. The marriage licence fees which were granted as dispensations from banns varied in different dioceses. He presumed that the Orders in Council would make them uniform. The salaries of the officers who were to be retained was stated in the Schedule at a maximum amount; the total amounted to about £34,000, and a limitation would be placed on the amount to which they might be reduced. Since the abolition of church rates the difficulty had in-of inducing proper persons to take the office of churchwarden, because they had certain fees to pay and no fund out of which to discharge them, and no process of law could compel payment from an unwilling churchwarden. It was therefore proposed to abolish those fees payable at visitation. The Bill dealt with the fees paid by clergymen on institution to their benefices, but it did not specify them, it followed the precedent of previous Acts, and authorized the issue of tables of fees. He thought those fees ought to be reduced, and it was proposed to repeal those Acts which authorized tables of fees, in order that new tables of fees might be provided. The persons who issued the tables of fees were, as before, the two Archbishops and the Lord Chancellor; but it was made competent to Her Majesty to name other Members of the Privy Council who were to be associated with the Lord Chancellor in the issue of these Rules and Orders. In reference again to the marriage fees, if these remained substantially the same, and if the Schedule passed, there would be a surplus available, which might reduce the fees paid by the clergy by 40 per cent. The existing officers were not injured pecuniarily, and there would be a proportionate equality amongst them as to the share they would receive out of the general fund. The Bill reserved for those officers who had accepted office before the Act of 5th and 6th Will. IV. the rights of compensation which that Act conferred upon them for any damage they might sustain. One clause might excite emotion in that House, the clause that provided a salary for the Judge who was now sitting in the Court of Arches a sum of £1,500 a-year. The attention of those interested in this subject had been drawn to a correspondence of Dr. Tristram, who had undertaken to protect the interests of registrars. Dr. Tristram's idea was, that they might guard against the re-introduction into the Bill of the provision for having fees taken by stamps instead of money, if he could persuade the chancellors and registrars to tax themselves voluntarily to an amount of from 3 to 5 per cent, but this ingenious suggestion had met with no response. The Bill was identical with the one which passed through the House of Lords last year, and it ought at least to receive respectful consideration, especially as it had passed unanimously with the approval of the Episcopal Bench and the Lord Chancellor. It was unfortunate that Her Majesty's responsible Advisers could not undertake this subject. Lord Cranworth, when he was Lord Chancellor, did propose a measure dealing with ecclesiastical offices and fees, but an opposition led by the Bishop of Exeter defeated the Bill; and since that date no Government had introduced Bills of this character, they had been left to the Episcopal Bench or to independent Members of Parliament. But although the Government were not ready to take the responsibility of pro- posing a measure of the sort, yet he was sure that the right hon. Gentleman who now represented the Government in that House, would feel that practically responsibility attached to him on this subject. They must admit the importance of removing the discredit attaching to the Church from the abuses of the civil administration of its offices; and he trusted they would secure for the Bill a full and impartial consideration. This measure of reform in the Church could not be opposed on its principles, and he was ready to justify its details in Committee. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.

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


said, he wished to offer a few observations as an independent Member of the House, and not as in any way connected with the Government or any other organized body. No one would be unwilling to admit that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Cowper-Temple), had stated his case very fairly in introducing the Bill; but at the same time, he (Mr. Raikes) thought there was some reason for complaint against those persons who agitated that question outside of the House for pushing forward the Bill in that particular shape at that particular moment. The measure provided for the reduction of ecclesiastical officers and the remuneration of the surviving officers; but another part of it related to the Provincial Judge, and he doubted very much whether, if the circular of Dr. Tristram had been more successful, this Bill would have appeared at the present moment in either House of Parliament; and he confessed that he thought it would never have seen the light at all if it had not been necessary to provide a larger salary for the Judge of the Arches Court. He considered that that Judge should have a suitable stipend; but he was at a loss to see why the salaries of other persons should be diminished in order that the stipend should be provided. When the Public Worship Regulation Act was proposed, the subject of that salary was withdrawn from it, and it was left to the generosity of the public, or the future wisdom of Parliament, to fill up the vacuum. He did not see why an Ecclesiastical Judge, whose appointment was regarded as of great public importance, should not be paid by the nation, or, if that was not acceptable, why should not the Archbishops and other members of the Episcopal Bench, who had always clamoured, if he might use that phrase, for the appointment of an Ecclesiastical Judge, be called upon to pay towards his salary. There were other grounds for deprecating the introduction of a Bill at this time in reference to these fees. The matrimonial laws would have to be amended, and the fees in respect to them would have to be dealt with; and, therefore, he thought they should wait before making the particular changes now proposed. Moreover, reference had been made in the Press to the supposed intention of the Government to bring in a Bill for the creation of new Sees, and it would be desirable to know what the new Sees were to be, before dealing finally with the matter now before the House, and the fees which would have to be paid to the officials. As to the payment of fees by churchwardens, he thought it would be desirable to abolish them. There were 10,000 parishes in England, and their churchwardens' fees, the collection of which was very difficult, formed a very small portion of the total of £40,000 collected. The payment of money by stamps would be a difficult matter to carry out all over the country, and he did not see that the Bill provided for it. He admitted that some of the proposals in the Bill would effect certain improvements, but he had suggested good reasons for pausing before they attempted to legislate. With respect to the Bishop's chancellor, they were told that in future he was always to be a person learned in the Civil Law. If that was to be construed literally, he supposed it would mean that he was to be a D.C.L., a degree frequently bestowed honoris causâ, and which was not enjoyed by some of the first lawyers of the day. It would therefore be restrictive, for while it would, to a great extent, exclude the members of the English Bar from holding it, it would not prevent clergymen who had taken that degree from doing so. Beyond that, there were many well-qualified persons who had not the degree of D.C.L., while many who possessed it were wholly unqualified. Some Bishops seemed disposed to ignore the real duties of the office of chancellor, as in one case the chancellor had been appointed the head of a theological College, and that he considered was objectionable as the duties of two such offices were very different. The functions of the Court of the Bishop's chancellor in regard to the personal status of the clergy had been described as more analogous to those of a court-martial in regard to the personal status of officers of the Army than anything else, and he thought the Army would object strongly to having all matters relating to military discipline judged by the nearest magistrate. The clergy had a right to be heard before the appointment of clerical chancellors was done away with. He disliked the proposed union of registrar and Bishop's secretary, as the duties of the two officers were wholly distinct in practice. He granted that a Bishop's secretary ought to hold his office during pleasure; but he thought that the office of registrar, now held during good behaviour, and which was one of the best parts of our ecclesiastical system, had better be kept on its present footing. Upon the general question he wished to observe that there was a great disposition in the country to believe that these fees were excessive, that they pressed hardly upon the clergy in particular, and that they were received by pampered officials who did little and were largely paid; but, whatever might have been the case in former times, that was not so now. The large fees had been swept away by the Acts which constituted the Probate and Divorce Courts, and the registrars did not receive now more than from £500 to £600 a-year, and they did a large amount of work. In conclusion, the question before them, affecting as it did the position of a body of men not largely represented in the House, was one of considerable importance, and their interests ought not to be disposed of without careful consideration and further inquiry.


said, if there were one thing more clear than another to be learnt from the two speeches which they had heard, it was that there was an absolute necessity for a change in the law in regard to this subject. The measure proposed to abolish churchwardens' fees, which caused great dissatisfaction in the country, and that fact alone should commend the Bill to the consideration of the House. No doubt it would be highly improper to take away the emoluments of these different classes of persons, without giving them an opportunity of being heard; and remembering also that that was a question of much difficulty, it having been under consideration for some 30 years, he thought it could only be satisfactorily dealt with by practical men, and he should have greatly preferred it if the Home Secretary had taken its settlement in hand and brought in a well-considered measure on the subject. But, thinking as he did, that there was a want for the measure, he would venture to hope that it would be referred to a Select Committee, so that all parties whom it affected might have the opportunity he had referred to, and where everything would be well considered, and as this could be done early in the Session, he should hope to see a good Bill passed this year. Everyone who had read this Bill as it now stood, must come to the conclusion that in its present shape it was very objectionable, very unfair, and could not be allowed to pass.


congratulated the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Hampshire (Mr. Cowper-Temple) on having brought forward the Bill at so early a period of the Session, because it would give the House an opportunity of fully considering the subject. Other measures of the same kind had usually come down to that House at the end of July when it was impossible to consider them. Frequent attempts of late years had been made to deal with the subject, and in 1872 the right hon. Gentleman the present Home Secretary, before he held office, sought in an admirable manner to grapple with it. For a long time past there had been loud complaints against these ecclesiastical fees, which were often exacted for little or no real service performed. The sums now received by various ecclesiastical officials who filled places which had existed for a long period, but many of whose offices were now practically gone, amounted to about £80,000 a-year. Of that sum £40,000 came from marriage fees, about £15,000 from the clergy on admission to their benefices, £13,000 from visitation fees, £3,000 from consecration fees, and the rest from minor sources. In the various dioceses the secretaries of the Bishops received on the average about £400 a-year each; the chancellors about £300, the registrars about £800, and the apparitors and surrogates smaller sums. One officer did his work by deputy, another provided parchment, another provided the seal, another fixed the seal, and so on, the total amount they obtained from the public being, as he had said, no less than £80,000 per annum. The office of Bishop's secretary was entirely a modern creation, and those officers ought therefore to be paid either by the Bishops themselves, or from the funds in the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and certainly not by fees. It was absolutely necessary to have a Provincial Judge, and also in each diocese one chancellor; but they ought not to keep up useless offices in order to levy fees from the public for marriage licences and other matters, or from clergymen who were instituted into benefices, the new incumbent having, what with dilapidation charges and other expenses, quite enough to bear without that further impost. Much dissatisfaction was sometimes caused in respect to consecration, and in one instance a hon. Gentleman, a Member of that House, had built a church, and when the time came for its consecration the Bishop of the diocese could not attend and he had to apply to the Bishop of the adjoining diocese, who performed the ceremony; but the consequence was that the Gentleman who built the church had to pay the consecration fees twice over, once for each diocese. That was a specimen of the abuse of this system that required to be abolished. This measure had been introduced into the other House with the sanction of the Bishops, and, also, he understood, with that of a great number of the officials concerned, who were themselves willing to have their duties and their fees better regulated. Let the House, then, get rid of offices to which no work was attached, and only retain those in which real duties had to be performed. He thought the simplest mode of proceeding would be for the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to ask the Bishop what official aid he required, and then, having obtained duly qualified persons, to pay them for their services. They should do that now, without waiting for any prospective and undefined changes in the marriage laws, which had, after all, nothing to do with the matter now before them. He anticipated great benefit from referring the Bill to a Select Committee.


while recognizing the moderation and calmness of the hon. Mover, contended that there were incidents connected with the contents and with the introduction of the Bill which called for inquiry, and he trusted, therefore, that the Bill would be referred to a Committee which would have power to take evidence. He spoke especially to the letter, also referred to by his hon. Friend the Member for Chester, from Dr. Tristram, the chancellor of London, and therefore the highest but one of all our ecclesiastical Judges, and a man who was competent to know what he was talking about in such connection. His letter was not intended for publication, and therefore no doubt contained the undisguised and innermost thoughts of the writer—and there was something fresh and innocent in those inmost thoughts of so venerable a Judge. Dr. Tristram alleged that the whole intention of the Bill was to find a salary for Lord Penzance, and that if all the ecclesiastical officials would unite in a subscription for Lord Penzance, nothing more would be heard of the Bill. But the Bill had been heard of again, so clearly Dr. Tristram's scheme must have broken down. Still, there remained his statement, with all the weight of his authority; and there was the diametrically opposite statement of his right hon. Friend. A Committee was clearly needed for settling the question whether, as Dr. Tristram said, the 52nd clause was the Bill, and the rest merely what in the language of editors was called "padding;" or, as the right hon. Gentleman held, the rest of the Bill was the Bill, and the 52nd clause the "padding." The proposal to pay the Public Worship Regulation Judge by fees touched consciences and feelings, and was not to be measured by the simple amount of money involved, while, on the other hand, to abolish offices for the mere sake of cutting down something seemed to him poor economy. Then he thought the hon. Member for Chippenham had argued with less than his usual acuteness in protesting against consolidation, as if that were not the more convenient, while equally effective way of effecting reduc- tion, while simple abolition would be alike rude and unsatisfactory. In regard to Lord Penzance, everyone who had the welfare of the Church at heart would regret to see the question of a revision of fees mixed up with the unfortunate controversy which had been raised in connection with the Public Worship Regulation Act, as if there were no other way of providing its Judge with his stipend. The appropriation of marriage and other fees to the payment of the Judge entrusted with the working of that Act would lead to much dissatisfaction. It aggrieved the laity, from whom the large amount in the way of marriage licence fees would proceed; and it aggrieved the clergy, who were called on to pay for a new penal jurisdiction created for their own "regulation" or, as they might think, oppression. How could the right hon. Gentleman justify his proposal to have the brand of discord lighted at the torch of Hymen? Or how would a clergyman on his induction enjoy being forced to help to pay the Judge by whom he might be expelled? Such a provision was like telling a man that the costs of his trial and conviction could be paid out of his own goods, like costs in a civil suit. Those most unhappy prosecutions which had recently agitated the Church, were the shame and the regret of all right-minded and quiet people; and yet they here attempted to impart the memorial of them into a statute which ought above all things to be kept free of strife and dissension. It was a very great mistake, he might even say a political blunder, to hamper the Bill with burning questions, and if only to raise it out of that atmosphere of contention, he should be glad to see it sent to a Committee having power to take evidence.


said, he rose principally to correct one or two inaccuracies that had occurred during the debate. His hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Beresford Hope) had wished Dr. Tristram to be examined, but if the hon. Gentleman had read the evidence that had been taken last year he would find the vicar general of the Province had been heard at great length. He was glad to see that the fees for the admission of churchwardens were abolished by the present Bill, and he agreed with his hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Mr. Goldney) that the fees for the institution of clergymen to benefices should also be done away with. He would admit that Bill had many excellent features; but it was one of so complicated a nature that a Committee of the Whole House could not fully examine its provisions. He was glad, therefore, that the Bill was going before a Select Committee; but he hoped it would not be necessary to take any evidence, as a large amount had already been collected. With regard to the amount of the fees, those who were competent judges estimated them at only £45,000 and the highest estimate he had ever seen was £52,000, instead of £80,000, the sum mentioned by the hon. Member for Chippenham; but however that might be, it was very desirable that certain of these fees should be abolished, and he therefore, as he had said, approved of the reference of the Bill to a Select Committee.


in supporting the Bill, wished to point out that undue haste and spoliation were not fair charges to make against the promoters of the measure. It had been open for discussion since last Session, and it dealt most tenderly with existing interests. The question really was whether the Bill was a fair way of remedying a grievance which had long existed. It proposed to abolish or amalgamate offices only as they fell vacant by death, or lapsed in other ways, by which means 409 offices could be reduced to 100. A great reduction of fees must naturally be expected to follow, and it was estimated that on the fees payable by clergymen on institution and induction alone there would be a reduction of 33 per cent. In view of the great benefits which the Bill promised it was thought proper to set apart a certain amount of fees to provide for an adequate salary for the Ecclesiastical Judge, and that was a question which might very well be considered by the Committee. As the Judge did his duty, it was only right that he should be properly remunerated; and it was to the interest of the Church that his status should be upheld. He agreed that the nation ought to pay the salary of the Judge, but so far this had not been proposed.


expressed his satisfaction that the Bill had been brought forward. The sooner these questions were settled the better it would be for both the Church and the community generally, as delay would only tend to aggravate the difficulties. There should not be a strict limit placed to the taking of evidence before the Select Committee, because it was desirable that all the circumstances of the case should be dealt with after mature consideration.


said, he could, at all events, speak on this question with an unbiased and unprejudiced mind, because long before the heated discussions which had arisen from a matter connected with one of the clauses in this Bill his attention had been called to the present subject. The more he looked into the question the more he was persuaded that, so far as the Ecclesiastical Courts were concerned, they were in the position in which all institutions were found that had not been reformed for a long period of years. Where there had been considerable neglect, the natural consequence was that a great sum of money was gathered from persons who could ill afford to pay it. To him it seemed as if a quantity of officers were appointed for the sole purpose of swallowing up the fees, and a quantity of fees imposed for the sole purpose of being swallowed up. He did not purpose to repeat the statements on the subject which he believed had met with the ready acceptance of the House in 1872, nor to endeavour to show that some large reform was necessary for the purpose of providing a remedy for the present state of things. He found that the Bishop of London introduced a Bill on the subject in 1847, another in 1848, and a third in 1849. The Government of the day then took up the question. The Lord Chancellor at that time (Lord Cranworth) brought in a measure for the purpose of regulating those Courts, and it was passed by a majority of 8. In 1869 Lord Shaftesbury introduced one Bill and the Archbishop of Canterbury another, and both were referred to a Select Committee. That Committee reported that one of the Bills should be proceeded with, but owing to want of time the Bill fell through. Lord Shaftesbury again brought the question forward in 1870, but as he was told that some information was required before it could be legislated upon, he had to put the matter off. He again brought it forward in 1871, but it could not be dealt with owing to the illness of the Arch- bishop of Canterbury. In 1872 he again introduced his Bill, and in the same Session he (Mr. Cross) brought it forward in the House of Commons. The hon. Member for Chester (Mr. Raikes) then made nearly the same speech as he had made to-day, and as he (Mr. Cross) could not concur with him in thinking that the time had not arrived for dealing with it in a satisfactory manner, it was hoped that, after those five years of grace which had intervened, his hon. Friend would be content that the House should now really proceed to business. There were many matters which would require the greatest possible consideration. He was aware that there were considerable interests concerned, and he readily admitted that those persons who now held the offices should have their interests duly and carefully examined into and respected. He must, however, entirely dissent from the proposition that because a person held a particular office he had not only a vested interest in it, but was entitled to have it continued for his satisfaction to future generations. He did not want to mix up considerations with regard to the case of Mr. Tooth, in connection with Clause 52, or to make any remarks which would give rise to controversy; but in 1872, long before the Act which had been referred to had been passed, he made a proposition that the fees in connection with the procedure in Ecclesiastical Courts required material alteration. He showed that there was one case in which the costs amounted to £5,000, and another in which they exceeded £8,000. It was quite clear that sums of that kind practically rendered any judicial decision impossible. Quite irrespective of that Act of Parliament, some reform was necessary in order to cheapen procedure and avoid actual waste of money. Far be it from him to say that in wishing to cheapen the procedure, he wished to increase the number of suits. He did hope that the common sense of England would set itself against much litigation. He thought that the fewer suits there were the better, and that common-sense men of all parties would agree with him in that opinion. When they came to look at the amount of fees which were levied, the number of officers, and the amount of business done, the contrast was conspicuous. In the Chancellor's and Registrars' Courts the number of cases in 1869 was 12, and in 1870 it was only six. They did not want a very extravagant staff for that amount of business. This question had been before Parliament over and over again, and he wanted the House now to face it. He would, therefore, request that the Bill should be referred to a Select Committee, not with the view of shelving it, but with the view of remedying some of the defects to which reference had been made.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and, on the Motion of Mr. ASSHETON CROSS, ordered to be referred to a Select Committee.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Select Committee have power to send for persons, papers, and records."—(Mr. Beresford Rope.)


thought it would be a great mistake to agree to the proposal.


said, it was not requisite that the Committee should have power to summon witnesses from every part of the United Kingdom, because the only result of such a proceeding would be that the whole question would be gone into, and the Bill be thrown over. It might be that the Select Committee, when they considered the Bill, might ask leave of the House to take evidence upon certain points. In the first instance, he was quite satisfied that it would be better to refer the Bill simpliciter to a Select Committee; and if they considered it necessary to take evidence on any particular point they could ask leave of the House to do so.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.