HC Deb 10 March 1880 vol 251 cc752-9

Order for Second Beading read.


, in moving that the Order for the Second Reading of the Bill be discharged, explained, that after consulting with his hon. Friends, whose names appeared on the back of the Bill, he had come to the conclusion that it would not be for the convenience of the House, and certainly it would not be in the interests of their proposals, that they should attempt to take a division upon the question at present. But he desired to call the attention of the House to the real character of the proposals of the Bill of which he had charge, because he thought that there was a good deal of misapprehension abroad on the subject. Some of the opposition which was threatened to it in that House was, he could not help thinking, threatened under some degree of misapprehension, and therefore he trusted that when a new House of Commons was returned, and, in the words of the Irish poet, "beaming all over with smiles," the proposals of this Bill, which would certainly be brought forward at the earliest possible opportunity in a new Parliament, might have a better time of it in all its stages than the present measure had had in its initial stages during the present Session. He desired now very briefly to call attention to the true character of the measure. It contained a very modest proposal with the object of undoing a great wrong which had been inflicted upon certain persons. He wished to say that, although the title of the Bill was the Irish Church Act Amendment Bill, it did not in any way challenge any of the general principles contained in the Irish Church Act of 1869, or propose directly or indirectly to re-endow the Irish Church. Its object was simply to give redress to certain individuals, clergymen of that Church, who, in his opinion, and he believed in the opinion of every fair and honest man who had considered this question, sustained a grievous wrong and injury when the Irish Church Act came suddenly upon them. He wished further to say that the Bill applied only to certain clergymen who were either minor incumbents or curates in the Irish Church on the 1st day of January, 1871. It applied only to those who, under the Irish Church Act, had already received annuities calculated at a less amount than £250 a-year. Therefore, while it excluded every clergyman who might have come into the Irish Church since the 1st of January, 1871, and every clergyman who had received a greater annuity than £250 a-year, it included all the clergy under the Irish Church Act, who were, on the 1st of January, 1871, either incumbents or curates of the Irish Church. Now, the principle upon which the Bill was founded was a very small one, and it was this—the average income of the incumbents of the Irish Church previous to disestablishment had been ascertained to have been something over £250 a-year, and there were in the Irish Church at the time of disestablishment 550 incumbents whose means were under that sum. All these men had accepted these small incumbencies with the prospect of having their incomes augmented to £200 a-year at least, through the operation of certain Acts which had been passed for the purpose of augmenting small incumbencies in Ireland. But, besides that, they had a prospect of other benefits, which would bring their incomes up to £250 a-year. There was also a large number of curates, all of whom had entered the service of the Irish Church with the prospect of obtaining preferment. It must be remembered that as the patronage of almost all benefices in Ireland was in the hands of the Bishops, it had become the established custom that all the Clergy, with very few exceptions, should obtain promotion. The Irish Church Act came suddenly upon them, and put an end to the prospects of the minor incumbents, without giving them any compensation whatever. This was the main contention of the Bill. But besides that main contention, these minor incumbents and curates alleged that there were funds in the hands of the Irish Church Commissioners on which they had a special claim. This fund was the result of a special tax on the wealthier incumbents for the augmentation of the salaries of their poorer brethren, and was naturally regarded by the minor incumbents as belonging to themselves. It was estimated as amounting to between £250,000 and £300,000. This claim was put forward on general grounds by the incumbents, and especially because it had not been noticed or acknowledged by the Irish Church Commissioners. The exact amount of the money which was the subject of this claim had been marked for the purposes of it, and although he could not state the precise amount, it could be easily ascertained. Calculations had been made by competent authorities, who had an opportunity of investigating the matter, and he believed that it would be found the whole sum required to compensate these gentlemen would not exceed £300,000, and he did not believe it would cost more than £250,000. He wished it to be distinctly understood that this claim was put forward to redress personal wrongs, and was in no way intended as a re-endowment of the Church, either directly or indirectly. The effect of the disendowment had been very heavy upon those whom the Bill sought to assist, and the matter was one of urgency, inasmuch as they had already devoted some of the Church Surplus to other matters, and they had been informed that a scheme for dealing with the whole of it would, before long, be submitted. He wished, however, in dealing with the question, to deal with each question upon its merits, and to see that, as under the old arrangements, the stipends of these clergymen should be raised to £250 a-year. They would, therefore, have to find out what the present income of each was, in order to arrive at a satisfactory conclusion as to the amount to be added, and he had provided in the Bill that in each case the clergyman should apply to the Commissioners, state his ease, and prove it to their satisfaction, and only to the extent of his case would he get anything whatever. Again, whatever money he received would not go to the Church, but simply to redress his personal wrongs. Anyone who knew what had happened in Ireland since the passing of the Church Act would admit that there were cases of grievous hardship. He would ask any unprejudiced man to put the case in this way. Supposing his own son or brother had been brought up to do duty in the Church, with the full belief that the very moderate measure it offered would be reached, and supposing that by the disestablishment and disendowment of the Church that measure had been very much reduced, would they consider that fairness had been done? Many had, in fact, entered the Church, believing that their income would reach £250 a-year, but suddenly the Act was sprung upon them, and they and their family had to exist upon, perhaps, £100, £110, or at the outside £120 a-year. The additional sum he was now asking should be paid to them would make all the difference between penury, not far removed from actual destitution, and comparative ease. He appealed, in the name of fair play and of honesty and justice, that the relief should be given. It was very small, and could be granted without any serious injury to the Surplus Fund. The case was one which very justly required redress, and he trusted that when the Bill was introduced in the next Parliament the House of Commons would be willing to sanction its passing into law. By so doing, the House would be redressing a real grievance and a great wrong which was done to certain individuals, but which, he could not believe, was ever contemplated or foreseen by the promoters of the Irish Church Disestablishment Act. He begged to move that the Order for the second reading of the Bill be read and discharged.


, while sympathizing with the feelings which the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Plunket) held towards the clergymen of the Irish Church, said that, unfortunately, it was not alone amongst the Irish clergy, but also amongst the clergymen of the Established Church of England there were many cases of great hardship. There were many of the working clergymen of the English Church who had small incomes, large families, disappointed expectations, and difficulties of every kind to contend with. The House must try, if possible, to withdraw their minds from those appeals which had been so earnestly put before them by the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Plunket), which appeals would be perfectly unanswerable, if they were made with regard to the obtaining of assistance from other quarters. He wished to point out why he had been unable to give his support to the Bill of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for the University of Dublin. This was an attempt to re-open a question which was settled 11 years ago—a question which was settled, after careful deliberation by Parliament, by a measure which was brought in after the most minute examination of all the claims which might arise under the circumstances of disestablishment. When a measure of that great magnitude, a measure not only involving and affecting the interests of the Church which was about to be disestablished, but also affecting the interests of every class in Ireland, had been passed, it seemed to him most extraordinary that, after a delay of certainly 11 years, they should have the hon. and learned Gentleman proposing to the House that this great settlement should be disturbed, and that new terms should be given to certain members of the Irish Church affected by the measure. If the matter was one upon which the opinion of the House ought to have been taken, it ought to have been introduced immediately after the disestablishment of the Irish Church. It was quite clear that the curates in Ireland were in a position, at that time, to know exactly how their interests would be affected. There was no doubt whatever that those gentlemen would see that their prospects, with regard to promotion, were considerably impaired by the change in their position in the Church. If the gentlemen who made the present claims had placed them before the House at an early period, they might have been considered. In 1869 the question of the disestablishment of the Irish Church was settled under such conditions that it rendered it unwise, after a lapse of 11 years, to re-open it in the way now suggested. If that settlement had been a niggardly one, supposing the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Greenwich had dealt with the Irish Church in a harsh manner, the disestablishment might have been carried out under conditions which would have very seriously injured the position and prospects of the members of the Irish Church. But they knew that the right hon. Gentleman approached the question in a spirit of the greatest sympathy for the Irish Church; they knew that his great anxiety was that there should be no injustice done to any individual member of that Church, and he proposed an arrangement which had proved, as it came to be worked out, a munificent settlement of any claims which the Irish clergymen might have upon Parliament. He (Mr. Rylands) did not expect that the hon. and learned Gentleman would have gone so fully into the subject upon this occasion. Had he known that such was the hon. and learned Member's intention, he would have been prepared with facts and figures, which he did not now happen to have with him. But with regard to the main facts, there would be no dispute at all. That it was estimated that a certain amount would be payable to the Church Body of the Irish. Church, and that that amount was exceeded by a very large sum indeed, would not be disputed by the hon. and learned Member. But, in the working out of the settlement, very great unfairness occurred. It was clearly understood that those clergymen of the Irish Church who were to receive their annuities and commutations should remain in the actual service of the Irish Church, but in many cases this was not so. Then, again, the number of curates was augmented during the expiring days of the Establishment in a manner which was perfectly marvellous. There had never been such a revival of curacy in the history of the Church; for, at that time, clergymen who had hitherto worked without curates strangely enough found the necessity of employing one or more curates. Curates were even ordained within three days of the period at which the Act came into operation. That there was an appointment of a very considerable number of curates—a number far in excess of the average number of curates employed in the Irish Church before the disestablishment was contemplated—would not be disputed by the hon. and learned Member. In the Act it was stipulated that any gentleman appointed before the 1st of January, 1871, was to be entitled to a commutation of his annual income He believed he was correct in saying that before disestablishment was contemplated there were not more than 500 curates in the Irish Church. What, however, was the case on the 1st of January, 1871? The number of curates had increased to 900. Dissenting ministers, who had been officiating as Dissenting ministers up to the middle of the year 1870, went into the Church, and were ordained within three days of the Act coming into operation, and thus became entitled to a commutation. That was a straining of the intention of the Act. All the curates had received from the Church Fund a very considerable commutation, and he believed that the curates who were imported into the Church of Ireland, as he had described, were imported entirely with the view of their getting the advantage of the commutation of salaries. Many of those gentlemen were now receiving about £200 a-year, and, therefore, they would come under the Bill of the hon. and learned Member, and they would receive an increase to their salaries. The settlement effected by the right hon. Member for Greenwich (Mr. Gladstone) was not only a full and fair one, but a very handsome one, and, therefore, he (Mr. Rylands) considered that the question ought not now to be re-opened. If there were a number of gentlemen within the Church who were not placed in the position the hon. and learned Gentleman wished, a fund ought to be provided from some other source than from the Church Commissioners.


said, it was always a difficult task to oppose a Bill of this kind; but he must point out that last year the hon. and learned Member estimated the cost of the transaction at £500,000, whereas he now thought it would be covered by an expenditure of £250,000. There were, however, 550 gentlemen who were dissatisfied, and he did not think that the estimate of the hon. and learned Member would be sufficient to cover the cost of his project. Ho could imagine that it would at least amount to £800,000, and that would have a considerable bearing upon the Irish Church Surplus Fund. With that amount they could assist 10,000 small tenants to become proprietors; and, besides that, he feared that the Bill would cause the Surplus which remained to be dealt with in a very loose manner. He thought the Church Party had been very liberally dealt with by the Commissioners. No doubt, there were a few cases of hardship; but he did not believe that they numbered anything like 500 as stated. He thought, before they legislated, they ought to have before them a Return of the cases in detail.


said, the Irish Church Act was considered by the House to be a fair settlement, and the matter ought not to be re-opened. As for the Special Fund referred to by the hon. and learned Gentleman, its existence cut both ways, for such a large sum could not have been overlooked at the time of the passing of the Act, and the claims of the minor incumbents should have been inquired into at the time.

Motion agreed to.

Order discharged; Bill withdrawn.