§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.),
in moving the Second Reading of this Bill, regretted that it was not associated with some Member more influential than himself. Although he was a firm adherent of the Church of England, the measure might better have been brought forward by one more connected with Church work. This measure, like the Bill of last year dealing with this subject, had been approved by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bench of Bishops, and had been practically adopted by the Houses 143 of Convocation. The present measure bad also been approved by both Houses of Laymen. It had, therefore, received the support of both clergy and laity. He would not go into questions connected with ecclesiastical law or involving technical matters, complex even to lawyers, but would confine himself to the broad principles of the measure. There were three main ideas in the Bill, and they would commend themselves to all interested not only in the welfare of the Church and in its extended usefulness in this country and elsewhere, but in the advancement of the Christian religion. First of all, it was to stop the sale by public auction of next presentations to Church livings; secondly, it was to stop the traffic in Church livings; and, thirdly, it was to give to the Bishop of the diocese some power, though not very great, to prevent improper persons from being instituted to any benefice. Those three main propositions could not be objected to by anyone who was in any way interested in the welfare of the Church of England. These were all proverbial points which had been discussed many times, and as to which, practically speaking, both laity and clergy agreed something ought to be done; and he did not think that their Nonconformist friends could possibly object to those reforms in the Church. The Nonconformists, though not agreeing with Churchmen on points of discipline or otherwise, were interested in the spread of sound Christian instruction in this country, and would therefore agree that these great blots on the Church system should be done away with. First, with regard to stopping sales by auction of Church livings, that, of course, was not absolutely correct—it was the next presentation; but not being a lawyer he could not see much practical difference, for it really was the sale of the living. In the first clause of the Bill it was provided that it should not be lawful to sell or offer for sale by public auction any right of patronage. It seemed unnecessary to use arguments to enforce that principle, though he could cite a great number of instances showing the abuse and scandal of public advertisements in connection with the sale of next presentations. One was, "A charming preferment for a man fond of sports and country life;" price, with early possession, £2,000; another, 144 "An attractive living, not far from a fashionable seaside resort;" and a third, which seemed the worst of all, where there was "A population of 1,500 persons, but the congregation small." A large price was asked, as there would not: be much to do. Such a state of things ! as this was an absolute scandal to the nation. Church patronage could not be said to be really property in the ordinary sense of the term; it was a sacred trust which should be exercised only for the welfare of the persons in the district to which the living belonged. Such advertisements were revolting, and all would agree that the whole system should be done away with. The remaining portion of the clause abolished the system of trafficking in livings, did away with the system of encumbering livings with charges, and so on. There was to be no charge on the incumbent, and no transfer unless it was a transfer of the whole right of the living, and certain other restrictions were dealt with which at present prevented many livings from becoming-available for the good of the district in which they were situated. One of the common systems of trafficking was that part of the price might remain on mortgage of the advowson and this system of trafficking ought to be abolished as a great evil. In some instances the traffic was soflagrant that the vendor of the living actually covenanted, on receiving the price for next presentation, that he would pay interest until the living became vacant by the death of the incumbent. He appealed to Churchmen as well as Dissenters to support these proposals. Communications had been sent him complaining that the patrons would be ruined. That was strange language to use in connection with such matters. The third main branch of the Bill was that the Bishop of the diocese should obtain some power to prevent improper persons from being presented to any benefice; but the power which the Bill conferred in this respect was hedged about with considerable safeguards. First of all, the Bishop had to ascertain that the patron had complied with the provisions of the Act; next, the Bishop, before he instituted any presentee to a new living, was asked to find out what that person had been doing since he was ordained, and it was proposed that he 145 should receive testimonials from three beneficed clergymen in favour of the applicant. Those could not be considered unreasonable precautions before a man had a Church living handed over to him. The Bishop must next give a month's notice to the Churchwardens of the parish that he intended to institute such a person, and, during the lime allotted, any parishioner might, in writing, give reasons against his being instituted. No one, he thought, would say that this was an unreasonable precaution. The Bill further provided that if on certain definite grounds the Bishop considered that the person so proposed to be instituted would be injurious to the interests of the parish, then he had not only a right, but was instructed to refuse to institute him. Many people seemed to be afraid of this provision. But what were the grounds on which the Bishop would act in refusing to institute to a benefice? The Bill enumerated six reasons for which a Bishop could refuse to institute a clergyman to a living. They were—that the clergyman had not been ordained one year, that he was unfit through physical or mental infirmity, that he was in great pecuniary difficulties, that he had been guilty of misconduct or neglect of duty in offices which he had previously filled, that he was leading an evil life, or that there was a grave scandal or evil report affecting his moral conduct. To these six grounds for a Bishop's intervention be did not think that any Churchman or Dissenter could object. To provide against the possible abuse of power thus put in a Bishop's hands a right of appeal was given to patron and presentee, so that when they were dissatisfied with the reason given for a Bishop's refusal to institute they could bring the case before the Archbishop. Where the refusal occurred in an Archbishop's diocese a special court of appeal composed of three Bishops would be constituted. So that there was every protection against tyranny, and the danger was not that the Bishops would act unreasonably or unfairly, but that for the sake of peace, quietness, and kindness they would not act as firmly as they should. These were the chief provisions of the measure, which some might think ought to go even further than it did in the direction of reform. 146 He was himself in favour of preventing any person from receiving any consideration at all for the exercise of Church patronage, and no doubt in ordinary employments it would be held to be an outrageous thing to sell patronage. If any hon. Member found that a friend, recommending to him a secretary or clerk, had stipulated that he should receive a large payment out of the man's salary as commission for having got him the appointment, it would be considered almost a criminal offence. He agreed with the Lord Chancellor, who said in the House of Lords last year that there was something repugnant in the mere idea of the sale of a sacred trust. This Bill, then, he admitted, was a comparatively humble one; nevertheless, it would do a great deal to check great abuses, and therefore he warmly recommended it for acceptance not only to Churchmen, but also to Dissenters, who were, he felt sure, convinced that it was most desirable in these days to put an end to all forms of scandal connected with religion. He begged to move the Second Beading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Bartley.)
§ * MR. PAUL (Edinburgh, S.)
moved—That this House declines to proceed further with a Bill which, while recognising the sale of Ecclesiastical Patronage in the future, deprives the present holders of ecclesiastical property, without compensation, of rights to which they are by law entitled.He said, that he did not ask the House to assert that the sale of ecclesiastical patronage was a right in respect of which compensation ought in all circumstances to be paid. What he did ask them to say was that by a Bill which recognised, in a most mischievous manner, the sale of ecclesiastical patronage it was not just to take away existing rights of sale without compensation. He could quite understand any ecclesiastical or social reformer coming to the House and saying this was an unholy traffic in a sacred trust—that, in the words of Shakespeare, "The offence is rank and smells to Heaven," and that it should be swept away altogether, without talking about compensation for a right which ought never to have existed in this 147 world. When the Bill of the Home Secretary for disestablishing the Welsh Church was introduced, and the right hon. Gentleman said that Welsh patrons would only be entitled to one year's compensation for the loss of their patronage, a visible shudder of horror passed through the Opposition Benches. But if it was unjust to take away patronage whilst giving one year's compensation, how much more unjust must it be to take away the right of sale of patronage without giving any compensation at all? What would the Bill take away? The right of the sale of patronage, the only right which in the case of patronage had any pecuniary value. Now he came to the Bill itself, which he did not think had been quite accurately described. The hon. Member for North Islington had stated several grounds for the acceptance of it, one of which was that it was favourably regarded by the majority of the Bishops. That statement was very possibly correct, because, if the Bill passed, their rights of patronage would be considerably increased. But that was no sufficient reason for passing the Bill; neither did he consider the fact that Convocation supported it was sufficient reason, because Convocation was a purely clerical body based upon imperfect representation. The House of Laymen had been referred to, but this was not a matter which could be decided by any body merely representing the Church. The hon. Member for Islington described the Bill as one calculated to promote the spread of the Christian religion, but apparently that desirable end was to be attained by preventing the sale of livings by public auction. He could not see how they would spread the Christian religion by doing in private what they were ashamed to do in public; if it were a right thing to do, it should be done in public; if it were wrong, it should be prohibited altogether. The hon. Member had described this as a Bill to prohibit the sale of the next presentation by public auction, but what it really did was to prohibit the sale of any patronage by public auction, and to prohibit altogether the sale of the next presentation. But why was the sale of the next presentation worse than the sale of any other presentation? If it were wrong, if it were immoral, and if it were 148 contrary to public policy that the right of presenting the succession to a benefice should be made the subject of barter, what did it matter whether the sale was of one appointment or of an indefinite number? He should have thought that the sale of the whole advowson was the worse of the two transactions. The truth was, that this was a tinkering Bill designed to hide and not to prevent scandals. There was a most curious point connected with the sale of advowsons, for the second sub-section of the clause provided for the transfer of the right of presentation, and laid it down that the right should not be exercised for two years after the transfer. What was the meaning of that? Why was it more sinful to exercise it within two years of the sale than after two years? The chance of what might happen in two years made it a gambling transaction. No doubt it was discreditable to the Church that there should be speculations on the life of an incumbent, and why Parliament should step in and permit and encourage such practices he could not understand. Again, he did not see why these rights of patronage should be transferred to the Bishop of the diocese. Bishops, he supposed, were considered public patrons, but public rights were often put to very private uses. A worthy old Bishop once put this question, the correct answer to which he had not yet been able to determine. He asked why an excellent young man should be prevented from having a good living merely because he happened to be his son-in-law. He invited the attention of the House to that problem. Probably the only practicable answer was to take the Bishop out of the way of temptation. It was all very well to try and prevent by any Act of Parliament a clergyman from buying a living, but he believed that one might just as well try to prevent by legislation a clergyman running race-horses. He would run them, if so minded, in another person's name. There were persons he knew who believed that as soon as a man was admitted a priest a peculiar virtue at once attached itself to him, and that he became peculiarly fitted for the exercise of certain functions. He would not now discuss that point, but he could 149 not understand the effort of the operation being postponed for a year. He would also ask why, if hon. Members thought that any patronage to livings was bad, and it had undoubtedly caused many evils, did they not bring in a measure which would entirely prohibit it, instead of a half-and-half measure such as the present Bill was? The fact was, that the Bill dealt with a great subject in a narrow spirit. Let them remove these evils from the Church, for by so doing they might weaken the cry for disestablishment. It was not sufficient merely to withdraw these evils and abuses from the cognisance of that public opinion, which was, after all, the most wholesome purifier. One very remarkable provision of the Bill was that which dealt with the Law of Libel. He did not pretend to say how far that provision would alter the existing law. As he understood the Law of Libel, it was not so much the statement which was privileged as the occasion, and the privilege depended upon the use made of the occasion. He hardly thought that a Bill dealing with Church patronage was the proper place in which to modify the Law of Libel, and to restrict the civil rights of Her Majesty's subjects. He would tell the House what he believed to be the proper remedies for the existing state of things. He believed the proper remedy for these evils was to leave the Church free and unfettered by legislation, and let her manage at her own discretion her own affairs. He was astonished that the Church Party, from whom apparently this Bill proceeded, should be willing to stand by such a measure, and by doing so they had turned themselves into nothing loss, in his opinion, than a "confiscation party." As hon. Members, however, had taken up their present position, he presumed that henceforth they would not denounce the Government up and down the country for proposing to pay Welsh patrons insufficient compensation. If the Bill would apply any cure to existing evils, and if it would in any way promote the efficiency of the Church, he would be the last to oppose it; but inasmuch as he believed its effect would be to drive abuses into dark corners, he was bound to protest against it as an insufficient and mischievous attempt to deal with a 150 great question, and he therefore moved the Amendment standing in his name.
Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words,
this House declines to proceed further with a Bill which, while recognising the sale of Ecclesiastical Patronage in the future, deprives the present holders of ecclesiastical property, without compensation, of rights to which they are by law entitled,"—(Mr. Paul,)
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. DODD (Essex, Maldon)
said, he was sorry he could not agree with the speech of the hon. Member for South Edinburgh. The hon. Member had admitted that the state of the law in regard to patronage was by no means satisfactory, and Churchmen agreed that there was much which needed reform in that regard. He as a Churchman regarded this Bill as a reasonable attempt to put a stop to patronage scandals, and on that ground he asked the House to read it a second time. He could not understand the assertion of the hon. Member for South Edinburgh that the Bill was a paltry tinkering attempt to deal with the scandals of the Church; but as that was answered with anticipation by the Mover of the Bill, he thought it unnecessary for him to dwell upon that. He looked on the Bill as admitting the right of parishioners to have some voice in the nomination and selection of their ministers. This was the first time that such a right had been recognised in a Bill; and while he was prepared to admit that the recognition had not been made in the most satisfactory manner, he thought that in Committee it would be possible to introduce some desirable Amendments, and therefore he was prepared to support the Bill. Some objection might reasonably be raised to the power which it was proposed to place in the hands of Bishops in regard to presentations, because although they were willing as Churchmen to trust those dignitaries, they were not altogether satisfied with the manner in which they were chosen. They were nominated by 151 the Crown, and were the nominees of a Leader of a political Party, and it was quite possible men might be raised to the office who were not in full sympathy with the Church itself. Still, the Bill would remove obvious evils. It was a gross indecency to see in the papers advertisements like those read by the hon. Member for North Islington. He would like to see all these sales stopped, and in Committee on the Bill he should feel it his duty to endeavour to carry an Amendment by making it unlawful to sell or offer for sale any living either by auction or otherwise. He would also be willing to give compensation to patrons for the loss of their rights. It seemed to him that the property of the Church was very unevenly distributed. The best incomes were attached to those livings in which there was very little work to do, and consequently in those cases the patronage was a very valuable property. As the Bill would remove glaring scandals, be hoped the House, by reading it a second time, would do something towards purging the Church of England—an act for which all Churchmen should be grateful.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE (Rochester)
said, the hon. Member for South Edinburgh had dealt with a very important subject in a most superficial manner, and while he was grateful to the hon. Member for Maldon for the support he had given to the Bill, he was unable altogether to concur in the grounds on which that support was tendered. He did not share the views expressed against lay patronage. There was a great deal to be said for it. It enabled the Church, which embraced a great many varieties of opinion agreeing in the main but differing in detail, to be widely representative, and he did not think that an Ecclesiastical Committee would be able to exercise patronage in a more satisfactory manner. Therefore, they ought not lightly on a Wednesday afternoon to doom the system of lay patronage. He denied that the Bill was in any sense confiscatory, and he believed that if they abolished altogether the sale of advowsons it would produce evil. Was it not far better when the patron of a certain living sold his property in the neighbourhood of that living and went to live in a distant part of the 152 country, he should be enabled to part at the same time with his right of patronage? It often happened that a patron was unfortunate and lost his money; he would not in that case be able adequately to perform his duties, and it would be far better to get rid of him.
§ VISCOUNT CRANBORNE
said, it might be a temptation to him to present the living to an unsuitable man. A Committee of the House of Lords, a Committee of the House of Commons, and a Royal Commission had all agreed that the sale of the next presentation never did any good. The House would understand that he made the broad distinction that the sale of an advowson was one thing and the sale of the presentation another. To take away the right of selling an advowson would be a confiscatory measure. He did not think the Member for Edinburgh had studied the law with regard to next presentations, or made himself acquainted with past legislation. As a matter of fact, the sale of the next presentation was an evasion of that which had been the law of England ever since the reign of Queen Elizabeth. The House must be aware that it was not possible for a clergyman to buy the next presentation to present it to himself. It was not possible for any person to give a sum of money to secure the presentation to a particular individual. All this revealed a spirit in the law of England that it was contrary to the law that any one should give money to procure a spiritual charge. Persons engaged in this disgraceful traffic knew that they were sailing as near the wind as they could. The Bill, therefore, was not of a confiscatory character: what they proposed was to interpret what was the spirit of the law. They knew that the meaning of presentation was the presentation of the clerk to the Bishop for approval. It is not intended to seriously alter the law in this respect, but they proposed to give to the Bishop the right institution where a clerk was obviously unfit to take the charge. At present the Bishop was unable to refuse institution. Technically he had the power, but practically he had not the power. They proposed to make the power effective, so that where a 153 Bishop found in a proposed incumbent any of the faults enumerated in the Bill he should be able to refuse institution, and he thought that was a perfectly just proposal. In case there was any feeling that injustice had been done there would be an appeal to the Archbishop, which was to be heard in open Court. The cases of death or infirmity were also provided for. He hoped the House would give the Bill a Second Beading, because it embodied what was really an earnest attempt to remedy abuses in the Church system. He trusted the House would not think it worth while to make the cruel retort that the Church was corrupt. It did not follow that the whole Church was corrupt because very occasionally some of its members were corrupt. The remedies which they proposed in the Bill were directed against evil-doors, and would not affect the well-doers. He repeated that this was an earnest and anxious effort in the direction of reform. They desired to avoid confiscation, and wished to do something to help the Church of England. They did nor believe it was necessary to wait for disestablishment. It was quite evident from experience that the whole sense of the community—of Episcopalians and Nonconformists, of Conservatives, Liberals, and Radicals—was against a, factitious opposition to a Bill which merely had for its object the better government of the Church of England and the benefit of religion generally. If objections were pointed out—if it were shown that the Bill went too far in protecting the rights of property—that it gave too much or gave too little authority to the rulers of the Church—he, for one, should he only too willing to consider any Amendment that might be moved; but, in the hope that it would not he treated as a species of partisan legislation, he confidently commended it to the House.
§ * MR. BIRRELL (Fife, W.)
said, so long as the Anglican Church was content to submit its sores to such a tribunal as that House, he maintained it was the duty of every Member of Parliament, however strong his opinions might be as to the tenets and doctrines of the Church of England, to give his earnest support to any proposals to remedy grievances and abuses as much as possible. He, there- 154 fore, should not think of taking upon himself the responsibility of voting against the Second Reading of the Bill; on the contrary, he deemed it a pleasure to give it his support. But those who were alive to the abuses of patronage and of the sale of livings might be excused if they called attention to the lame and limping manner in which this Bill dealt with the subject. So far as the views of his hon. Friend (Mr. Paul) were concerned, he thought he was obviously right when he pointed out that this Bill did confiscate certain rights at present enjoyed without giving any compensation at all. He did not understand that his hon. Friend regretted that that should be so. On the contrary, he was sure he thought with him that such rights were not proper subjects for compensation. The noble Lord might be right in saying that the sale of next presentations was contrary to the spirit of the law, but he could not deny that the right of sale was exercised every day, and this, therefore, was a confiscatory measure, although the right confiscated might not be a proper subject for compensation. This was only one of many rights of property, including rights of landlords, which had grown up contrary to the spirit of the law, and the title to which could not be made good if you went back three or four hundred years. The fact remained that people undoubtedly did make money by the sale of next presentations, and that right was interfered with by this Bill without a halfpenny of compensation being given. He thought with regard to that point there was a distinction when you were disestablishing a Church and taking away from patrons the right and privilege of nominating to the cure of souls, because, in that case, it might be fairly said compensation ought to be paid for interference with the rights of property. But, so far as the Church of England was concerned, no one was now proposing to interfere with any such rights; there was no interference with the privilege of nominating to the cure of souls, a right which patrons would continue to enjoy as heretofore. He regretted that the promoters of the Bill did not have the courage to say that, so far at all events as next presentations were concerned, there should be no sale of them at all—in fact, that no money should be 155 made out of them. Had that been done he did not think that any case could have been made our, for compensation, and they would have satisfied not only Nonconformists but also most members of the Church itself. The fact was, there had been a great heightening of feeling on this subject, and what used not to shock people 20 years ago did so now. He remembered that when he began practice as a conveyancer, it was the ordinary form in a settlement, when a young cleric was engaged to be married to a lady of property, to authorise the Trustees to apply some portion of her property for the purpose of purchasing a living to which her husband was to be presented; and he usually inserted a clause to that effect, taking it from the common text-books. The last time he did so was two or three years ago, when he received from the bridegroom to whom the draft was submitted so violent a letter that he had never since had the courage to insert the clause in any such settlement. That showed that things which used to pass muster without thought or consideration years ago now excited great antipathy and strong feeling. He rejoiced that that should be so, but he could not help advising the promoters of this Bill to take more courage and go to the full length of their convictions as faithful members of the Church of England. So far as the general measure was concerned, he must say he entirely agreed with the criticisms to which it had been exposed. Its spirit was intensely cowardly in reference to public auctions and advertisements, as though the minds of Churchmen were more affected by the publicity of the scandals than by the existence of the scandals themselves. The shame was not in the publicity which these evils obtained, but in their existence; not in the fact that tender consciences were wounded by the perusal of advertisements offering livings for sale, for that was no justification for coming to Parliament upon the question. He should advise the promoters of the Bill to so amend it in Committee that the sale of next presentations would be stopped altogether, and not merely by public auction. He put it with all gravity to the supporters of the Bill whether there was not something cowardly in driving sales of this de- 156 scription into the private parlours of the clerical agents, simply in order to avoid what was considered to be a public scandal, while the traffic was allowed to remain the same as before. It seemed to him that if they had the true interests of the Church at heart they should rather maintain alive these public auctions, in order that pious Churchmen might never forget what was going on in their midst, or cease to agitate for reform. He agreed with the noble Lord as to the value of lay patronage. It was most desirable in the interests of the Church of England that patronage should not become more and more vested in the hands of Public Bodies or officials. Lay patronage, to his mind, was better than that of Bishops or Public Bodies, and he was not at all sure that it was desirable to transfer to the Bishop of the diocese the increased patronage which he would possess under the Bill. He was not sure which was the worse patron, the Crown or a Bishop; therefore, he hesitated to substitute the Crown or the Lord Chancellor for the Bishop. It seemed to him that the subject required careful consideration with the view of determining who was the proper person to be invested with patronage. He did not know that it was desirable that presentees should be dependent for induction upon a testimonial from three beneficed clergymen, countersigned by a Bishop. If they required a condition preliminary of that sort, he should like to see a little lay opinion introduced. He did not object to the three beneficed clergymen, but he confessed he thought the opinion of the laity was at least as valuable. No doubt the power of the Bishops would be increased by the Bill, and, so far as that increased power was to be used for the purpose of keeping out persons obviously unfitted for the discharge of certain duties, he did not think that any sensible man could object to it. But ho thought that some of the language of the Bill was vague, and would require careful consideration in Committee. He supported the measure, but, at the same time, he did not think it reflected great credit on the courage of its promoters.
§ * SIR F. S. POWELL (Wigan)
said, that as one of the promoters of the Bill, he could not refrain from thanking the House for the very 157 favourable consideration which had been shown to it. He would point out that the Rill had not only received the sanction and authority of Convocation, of both the Northern and Southern Provinces, and of the Houses of Laymen of both Canterbury and York, but also of other authorities which, in the minds of some Members, would probably possess greater weight—a Committee of the House of Lords which sat in 1874, a Committee of the House of Commons which examined the matter in the year 1884, and a Royal Commission which dealt with it in 1879. The effect of these Reports was practically to recommend the substance of the present Bill, and many of the details were identically the same as those recommended by those bodies. He could not agree with the hon. Members who spoke of the Rill as one of confiscation. He could not admit that the right of patronage was an unqualified right. On the contrary, it was qualified in the most severe manner by conditions involved and implied. The Committee of the House of Lords in 1874 spoke in these words of patronage—We are of opinion that all legislation affecting Church patronage should proceed upon the principle that such patronage partakes of the nature of a trust to be exercised for the spiritual benefit of the parishioners, and that whatever rights of property originally attached, or in process of time have attached to patronage, must always be regarded with reference to the application of this principle.One of the objects of the Bill was to obtain publicity, and to prevent those private, hole-and-corner proceedings which were a greater scandal to the Church than the open sale of livings. There was a provision in the Bill to the effect that all transfers be recorded in the diocesan records, which he believed were open to the public so that every transfer would be well known to all whom it might concern. Another provision declared that no transfer should be valid which did not transfer the whole rights of the transferor. If the sole right was a next presentation that right might be transferred, as otherwise confiscation was necessarily the result. Another remark that had been made was that the Bishops had an increase of power under this Rill. The question to consider was not whether the Bishops had an increase of power, but whether that increase 158 tended to the good of the Church. He could not conceive anything more painful to a Bishop than to be compelled to institute a gentleman whom he knew to be unfit to exercise the great duties of an incumbent's office. The Bishops bad full power to act in the gross cases referred to by previous speakers. One hon. Member had said that the removal of these evils would not lead to a spread of Christianity. He entirely differed from that hon. Gentleman. Whether the Church of England were viewed in its purely legal aspect or regarded as a great Christian Society, everything in it that caused scandal must militate against the spread of Christianity, and everything that tended to remove scandal must tend to the spread of Christianity. As regarded sales by auction, he could not help thinking that some of the advertisements which had produced scandal were really flourishes of auctioneers. He could not believe that any person who bought a living would for a moment be induced to buy by such attractions as had been quoted. He was of opinion that the standard of clerical duty was fast rising, and that few clergymen could now be found who would take a living because it happened to be near a meet of hounds or near a fashionable watering place. As to the suggested abolition of lay patrons, he believed that the consolidation of patronage in a few hands would be a great evil to the Church. The Committee of 1874 spoke of the importance of lay patronage as securing variety and independence, and helping to continue that liberality and width of thought which characterised the clergy of the Church of England. He believed lay patronage to be a source of strength to the Church. Some hon. Members complained of the period during which a man must have been in priest's orders being limited to one year. He did not say that one year was sufficient, but he thought that one year's experience as a priest, combined with a year's experience as a deacon, would be a great advantage in many cases. If the period were extended too much the result must be to inflict hardship upon the clergy without conferring any benefit on the Church. He did not contend that the Bill did everything that ought to be done, but it was a step, and in an old country like ours we must move 159 one step at a time. The Church of England was the only Religious Body which came before the House, as it were, living in a glass case. All that was done in the Church was known, and when evils were found to prevail in the Church an endeavour was made to remove them. He rejoiced to find amongst gentlemen opposite a feeling that if the Church of England were to exist it ought to be left free to do good work during the continuance of its existence as an Established Church. The efficiency of the Church, whatever may be its fate, was intimately blended with the efficiency of religious teaching in this country. He was quite sure that the scandals which the Bill endeavoured to remove were a hindrance to the progress of Christianity, and that if the Bill passed religion would abound more in those parishes which would be affected by it than it had hitherto done. He hoped, therefore, that the House would consent to the Second Reading.
§ MR. PERKS (Lincolnshire, Louth)
cordially agreed with the last speaker, that the cause of moral reform and true religion must be materially advanced by the removal from the institutions of the Church of England of such practices as those that had been brought before the attention of the House in the course of the discussion. Hon. Members had just been reminded that this was an old country which moved slowly. Its Legislature apparently moved still more slowly. As long ago as 1870 Lord Cross, then a private Member of the House of Commons, brought in a Bill for the removal of these very abuses, and in 1877, when Home Secretary, in answer to Mr. Leatham, he stated that, in his judgment, the abuses ought to be at once swept away. Inasmuch as the Conservative Party had since that important declaration been for 12 years in Office, commanding in each House a very considerable majority, one almost wondered how it was that no serious attempt had been made by the laity of the Church of England to induce the House to deal with the question. It was not because they had failed to receive the support of the Nonconformists in the House of Commons because some of the most serious and protracted efforts to remove these abuses had emanated from Nonconformist Mem- 160 bers. They were sometimes told that the Nonconformists of England acted upon jealousy, and nothing but jealousy, of the Church of England; but he thought there was no Nonconformist who was anxious for the spread of religion amongst them who would not gladly assist in the removal of these most extraordinary conditions. What one was particularly struck with was that the measure was such a halting, such a half-hearted and feeble attempt to deal with a notorious abuse. He agreed with very much of what the Member for South Edinburgh (Mr. Paul) had said, that the impression produced on one's mind was that the supporters and framers of the Bill were anxious to still the public conscience and to rather hide than remove these abuses; because it was manifest that unless they prohibited the sale of advowsons, not merely by public auction, but prohibited the sale of them altogether, they did not go to the root of the evil. What was there to prevent a man privately buying an advowson to-day, presenting it to-morrow to himself, and then selling the advowson? There was nothing to prevent it under the Bill, which simply prohibited the sale of next presentations. Another defect in the Bill, he thought, was its failure to give the parishioners some sort of effective control over the appointment of the clergy. Until they entrusted the parishioners with some such powers as were given to Scotchmen under the Scotch Patronage Act of 1874 they would fail to grapple effectually with this difficulty. But he only rose for the purpose of saying he thought it was the duty of Nonconformists in this House to recognise this as a sincere, though he believed a feeble, effort to reform a long-standing abuse, and on that ground he hoped that every Dissenter would render it his support, so that the Bill might be duly considered in Committee, and amended in a way conducive to true religious progress.
§ SIR R. WEBSTER (Isle of Wight)
said, he agreed with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Louth (Mr. Perks); there ought not to be any feeling of jealousy between the Nonconformists and the Church of England, and he felt quite satisfied that if the hon. Member had had as much to do with the Church of England as he (Sir R. Webster) had had to do with Nonconforming Bodies, they 161 would both be able to appreciate the good that was being done by the various bodies. He did not believe that anyone who had spoken to-day thought there was any feeling of jealousy on the part of the Church and those in other denominations. The statements they had to meet had not certainly been of the character that demanded any lengthened reply. He had listened to the speech of the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Mr. Paul) with great pleasure, but he thought the hon. Member had not had time to consider the provisions of the Bill. The hon. Member said they were simply trying to drive an evil underground, and that the effect of the step they were taking would only be to prevent sales by auction. He did not speak as a promoter of the Bill, but on behalf of those who had considered it: and he thought that if the hon. Member bad made this subject a study for the last few years, he would have seen that it was in connection with the sales by auction that the abuses were most closely allied. Hon. Members who believed the result of this Bill would be to drive underground the abuses at present before the public, had not, he thought, noticed what were the provisions in the Bill, and what would be its results when the clauses were put in operation. The Bill, for the first time in history, provided for the public registration of all transfers, and thus removed one of the difficulties which had always existed in regard to such matters. If the hon. Gentleman had studied the subject he would have known that it was in connection with sales by auction that scandals generally arose. It was, however, impossible to deal with the whole question of patronage without at the same time grappling with the exceedingly difficult subject of compensation. That was a subject which the Chancellor of the Exchequer would hardly come to consider at present, and the funds of the Church were not in such a condition as to enable her to deal with it. He believed that the Bill would be productive of much benefit to the Church, but some hon. Members complained that it did not go far enough. Those who had considered the question felt that it would be impossible and improper to introduce into the Bill any complete change as to the way in which patronage 162 should be exercised. It would in all probability have promoted a discussion which would have had the effect of preventing the possibility of the Bill becoming law. While the promoters could not recognise anything in the nature of an election of an incumbent or minister, they had recognised the principle that the parishioners, not any parishioner, but five parishioners—which was a number that would secure responsibility—should have the right of presenting to the Bishop a statement showing that a, clergyman had become incapacitated from any cause for the due performance of his duties. When the provisions of this Bill came to be considered, he thought even the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Mr. Paul) would be inclined somewhat to change the expressions he had thought fit to use. He did not know with what motive the hon. Member spoke of this as a peddling and tinkering Bill; but when the hon. Member came to see that every speaker who followed him had said this was an honest attempt to remove grievances that had been found to exist for a long time in the Church, and when those who were themselves possessors of a considerable amount of this patronage—he referred at present to the House of Lords—had been the first to initiate schemes and proposals for the removal of the evils, he thought if the hon. Member considered the question from that point of view he would be of opinion that though the Bill did not go so far as the hon. Member and some others would like to see, at the same time it would remove a large proportion of those real breaches of the law, though they were not in a legal sense breaches of the law, which so many religious men of all denominations deplored, and which so many Members had expressed their willingness to find a remedy for. There were other provisions in the Bill, but they were mere matters for Committee. He hoped the House, which had received the Bill with such a fair temper, would give it a Second Reading, and that having done so its clauses would be considered, not in any controversial spirit, so that they might be able to say this Session had passed a measure and done something to remove an evil which all Churchmen and all Religious Nonconforming Bodies agreed ought to be dealt with.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir W. HARCOURT,) Derby
, who was very indistinctly heard, was understood to say—I am not disposed in any way to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. The principles on which this Bill are founded are those which I, for one, and Members on this side of the House have always accepted—namely, that the Established Church has relations with Parliament which entitles Parliament to deal with the Church's property in a way in which it could not deal with other property. Of course, the question of next presentation involves as much property as any other. It is not contrary to the law; otherwise it would be restricted. It is legal property, in which the person who has it has a right to deal as much as with any other property he possesses. When we were dealing with purchase in the Army, the transaction was simply contrary to the law, and we gave compensation. Here you are taking away property confirmed by the law and you give no compensation. Had we done that we should have been called confiscators and robbers. We do not return the compliment; we do not call those who bring in this Bill confiscators and robbers. On the contrary, we hail them with satisfaction as public benefactors, and I hope they will take the same course when dealing with Welsh disestablishment. I am glad that hon. Gentlemen opposite do recognise that Church property does stand in a different position to any other property in the country in respect to the right of Parliament to deal with it. I agree very much with the hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Mr. Paul), that this is—I will not use any uncomplimentary epithet, otherwise I would call it a sham Bill—but it is a Bill which does not deal with the persons who are to dispense these spiritual offices. You may not sell the next 'presentation to a living, but you may sell the advowson and anyone may buy them. The hon. Gentleman said just now the House of Lords did not object to this Bill. No, because it safeguards all the House of Lords cares about, which is the right of presentation; they do not want to sell; it is part of the appanage of a great estate. A poor man having a living may want to sell 164 the next presentation, but a rich man does not, and this Bill would not prevent him giving it to a younger son or to a neighbour who agrees with him on religious and political matters, and he secures to himself a spiritual oasis around his estate, taking care that all the parsons shall be in political and spiritual union with himself. That is really what is preserved by this Bill. The rich man buys a great estate, whether he belongs to an old family or has become one of the nouveaux riches, and acquires all these rights of spiritual gifts. He would say, "What a nice thing for my son Robert!" or "What a nice thing for my friend!" All that the Bill does not reform. It does not profess to reform the question of patronage at all. Upon the subject of lay patronage I have formed a strong opinion. I have always thought that lay patronage, if properly administered, was a good thing, and I should be sorry to see it episcopalised, for it would be the very worst thing that could happen to allow the Bishops to hold all the power of patronage in the Church. But when you speak of lay patronage as a thing to be purchased in the market, as it is now, and as it will be after your Bill has passed, that, in my opinion, is not the best way of introducing reform into this country. The people who have the best right to a voice in this matter are the congregations, and no system is of any value whatever that allows an individual, merely because he happens to be the proprietor of the soil, to dispose of the spiritual wants of the people who live upon the estate he has purchased in the open market. In my opinion, the loss of that power would not weaken, but would strengthen the Church. Where is the growth of the strength and influence of the Church in this country? It is not mainly in the country parishes, but in the great towns, because in the great towns it is a voluntary Church, and the clergyman depends upon his personal influence with his congregation. In the country the clergyman may be entirely out of harmony with the disposition, the sentiments, and the opinion of the parishioners, and when that is so how can you be surprised there is not that sympathy on the part of the people that there ought to be? Those are the real things which lay at the root of patronage, and 165 a Bill which professes to deal with patronage and does not recognise questions of that character is necessarily imperfect and inefficient. What I complain of in this Bill is that it does not deal with the interests it ought to deal with. It covers up and perpetuates the monopolies of the rich landlord, the rich possessor of the soil. This Bill is made in his interests, the whole of which it safeguards, while it taxes the interests of inferior men who might, by their circumstances, be compelled to make money out of the patronage. Then the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite says this is a very small matter. Yes, it is a very small matter, but the principle is a very great matter. I remember a maxim I was taught in my childhood which ran—"It is a wicked thing to steal a pin, much more a sin to steal a greater thing." The Convocation does not appear to think it a sin to steal the pin, therefore the whole monopoly of the great and rich man is to be preserved, and this small area of patronage in possession of the poor man is to be taken away. The hon. and learned Gentleman is naturally in favour of a proposal which increases his own authority and diminishes the authority of other people. As I have said before, this Bill includes the germ of much larger reforms. It includes the principle of dealing for the public advantage with property of this description, and on that ground I accept the Bill. It goes a very little way, and does remove what I think everybody will admit is a great scandal, and in that respect also I am prepared to accept the Bill; but I must join with my hon. Friend the Member for South Edinburgh in condemnation of the Bill as anything like an adequate or sufficient dealing with a very great matter, and I regard it as the letting out of water which will unquestionably hereafter flow in a much stronger stream.
* MR. CARVELL WILLIAMS (Notts, Mansfield)
congratulated the members of the Church of England on the fact that, after the lapse of eight years, they werenowagain asking Parliament to deal with the flagrant evils arising out of the present system of Church patronage. It was 24 years ago since Mr. (now Lord) Cross brought in a measure on the subject, and that period had witnessed a growth of activity, of 166 liberality and of religious feeling, in the Church which made it wonderful that the present evil system had been tolerated until now. The Royal Commission on the subject reported in 1879; but seven years passed before the Primate brought in a Bill to give any effect to the recommendations of the Commission, and then five years more were allowed to pass before the introduction of another measure. During the 24 years only two Members of that House had dealt with the subject; one of these being the lamented Mr. Stanhope, and the other, Mr. Leatham, a member of the Liberation Society, which was supposed by some to have a vested interest in abuses in the Church. There were various reasons for this long delay. The time of Parliament was absorbed by secular matters. Churchmen were divided in opinion. The House of Lords comprised numerous Church patrons, and, lastly, the whole question was indissolubly connected with the rights of property and the existence of an Established Church. While agreeing with what had been said as to the feeble character of the measure, he must admit that it went further and was stronger than any previous measure on the subject. Among its good points was the abolition of donative livings. Perhaps very few Members knew exactly what a donative was, and he would therefore give the House a description contained in a Charge, in 1875, of the Bishop of Peterborough, afterwards Archbishop of York.There are 100 patrons in England, not presumably better or wiser than other patrons, who hare the right to keep the parishes in their gift as long as they please without a pastor; who, when he is appointed, need produce no evidence that he is even in holy orders, no testimonial as to his character, and who may buy from one of these patrons the right, without check, hindrance, or so much as a question from any human being, to enter upon a cure of souls, and who, moreover, by that purchase, may have been enabled to complete some nefarious transaction respecting some other piece of Church preferment of which he may be the owner.It was not surprising that the promoters of the Bill should wish to convert donatives into presentative benefices; the only wonder was that they should have tolerated such a scandal so long. Another point of the Bill, of which he could speak approvingly, was the absence of any proposal to compensate patrons for the di- 167 minished money value of their rights, which would result from the passing of the Bill. It would be a most useful precedent when they came to disestablish the Church. The hon. Member for North Islington (Mr. Bartley) had spoken of the main principles of the Bill, but he (Mr. Williams) could not find them. Let not the House suppose that this was a measure for putting an end to the traffic in Church livings; on the contrary, it was intended to continue the traffic, but on new conditions, and by abating some of its worst scandals. It simply drove the traffic away from Tokenhouse Yard into the office of that well-known character, the clerical agent. The Bill also exempted two classes of livings from its operations—namely, the livings included in the Lord Chancellor's Augmentation Acts, and those in the gift of landowners who owned 100 acres in the parish. These might still be sold by auction, and might continue to be associated with the evils which the Bill professed to cure. There were two questions which he had a right to put to the framers of the Bill. Did they really consider that the right of appointing ministers of religion ought not to be bought and sold? If they did, why did they not apply the principle thoroughly and consistently in the present measure? Or, if they defended the merchandise in men's souls, why should not the transaction be open and aboveboard, instead of being shrouded in secrecy? The results of secrecy had been described by witnesses examined by the Royal Commission. Mr. Lee, the secretary to the Bishops, said that it was difficult for them to prevent corrupt presentations, because "where there is anything irregular it is kept most carefully, not only from the Bishop, but from his officers." Mr. Bridges also said that the clerical agentsInsist on the necessity of strict privacy, as vital to any arrangements of that kind.The hon. and learned Member for the Isle of Wight (Sir R. Webster) had pointed to the clause in the Bill requiring the registration of transfers and transmissions; but it did not, and could not, provide for the registration of the disreputable transactions which might have preceded a transfer. An attempt had been made to draw a distinction between 168 the sale of advowsons and the sale of next presentations; but there wore Churchmen who frankly admitted that no such distinction could properly be drawn. In the Debate on the Patronage Bill of 1886 Mr. Childers, a Churchman, who was then Home Secretary, said—The conclusion to be drawn is, that the sale of livings ought to be done away with altogether. There is no middle course.In the same Debate another staunch Churchman, the late Mr. Raikes, said—Whatever provisions you may make against the sale of next presentations, the ingenuity of the lawyers will get round them. As long as one person has a commodity to sell, and another wishes to buy, it is not in the power of an Act of Parliament absolutely to prohibit the sale.The framers of this Bill hoped to prevent illegal transactions in future by framing new declarations; but there was abundant evidence to show the utter futility of such safeguards. Among the witnesses examined by the Royal Commission was Mr. Emery Stark, a well-known clerical agent, and this was part of his cross-examination by the Bishop of Peterborough—Mr. Stark—Three-fourths of my transactions are with immediate possession, and, strictly speaking, they are nearly all illegal.Bishop—Knowing it to be illegal, these clerical patrons ask you to help them to break the law?Mr. Stark—Decidedly; and the matter is completed by solicitors of the highest standing in the country.Bishop—The clergyman knows what the meaning of Simony is in that declaration; he knows that it is a legal term which means contrary to the Law of Simony?Mr. Stark—Yes.Bishop—Knowing that, these moral clergymen, who first of all ask you to break the law, then take an oath that they have not broken the law?Mr. Stark-Yes.After such evidence, he ventured to say that the now declarations contained in the Bill would be as ineffective to bind the traffickers in livings as were the green withes by which it was sought to bind Samson. There was one great omission in the Bill which had not yet been noticed. It made no attempt to get rid of immoral patrons. The Bishop already quoted said years ago that 169The very greatest scoundrel in England may be a patron, and his extreme immorality is no bar in law to his acting as patron,and that was true to-day. He (Mr. Williams) could name three persons who within the last two or three years had figured most disgracefully in the Law Courts, who had as many as 63 livings in their gift. By means of the lately passed Clergy Discipline Act, the Church had sought to get rid of "black sheep" among the clergy; but the black sheep among Church patrons were left undisturbed. He had to ask himself what was his duty in regard to the Second Reading of this Bill. He was willing to afford to its promoters the opportunity for making it an effective measure, and that could be done by a very few Amendments which would absolutely abolish the sale of livings. If they refused to avail themselves of that opportunity, there would be a clear course before him at a future stage of the measure. He, however, would be wanting in frankness if he did not add that he had no hope that the great and admitted evils of the patronage system would ever be effectually dealt with while the Church continued to be established by law. That was not his opinion alone; it was shared by many sagacious Churchmen. Writing some years ago, The Guardian said—It deserves to be again and again said, and urged, that the abuses of private patronage are especially and emphatically due to the connection of Church and State.That was still true, and he reminded Churchmen who were now passionately protesting against measures of disestablishment that if they succeeded they would be perpetuating evils which they all deplored. The only Christian Church in the world, so far as he knew, which allowed the right of appointing ministers of religion to be bought and sold was the Church of England, and that was because of its establishment. Let it cease to be established, and the system, with all its iniquities, would disappear, as the snow of the night melts in the sunshine of the morning. The Church must first be liberated, and then it would be purified.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.170
§ Bill read a second time, and committed to the Standing Committee on Law, and Courts of Justice, and Legal Procedure.