HL Deb 15 July 1831 vol 4 cc1305-8
Lord King

said, that a Bill had been before their Lordships for some time, but which had latterly made no progress, intended to prevent the holding of pluralities. He had looked into the provisions of that Bill, and he thought that they were quite inadequate for the proposed object. Their experience of what had taken place with regard to the Union of Wicklow, was a sufficient proof that the vesting of a discretionary power in the hands of an Archbishop was not sufficient to prevent this evil. He (Lord King) had therefore prepared a bill on the subject, which he would now beg leave to present to their Lordships, and which, in his opinion, was calculated effectually to put an end to the practice of holding pluralities. This was not the proper stage to discuss the merits or to enter into the details of this Bill; but he would briefly state to their Lordships the leading features of it. He proposed, in the first instance, that above a certain sum no benefice with the cure of souls should be held incommendum, and he fixed the amount at 500l. a-year. That sum, he believed, was considerably above the average value of all the livings in England. Such a provision as that, he thought, would put an end to the practice of holding pluralities. He further proposed, that where a Clergyman held a benefice in commendam which was above that sum, he should not have the power at law to recover tithes or other dues beyond that amount; and that legal proof, given by the owners of land in the parish, of his having received that amount, should be an effectual bar to his recovery by legal process of any sums beyond that amount. That provision would effectually answer the object which he had in view; and if their Lordships really wished to put an end to this evil, they would pass such a measure as that. He was thankful to the most rev. Prelate (the Archbishop of Canterbury) for the measure with regard to the composition of tithes, and the measure regarding pluralities, which he had introduced, but the latter would not be effectual, and he (Lord King) therefore hoped, that the most rev. Prelate would give his support to the Bill, of which he then moved the first reading.

The Bishop of London

regretted, that the noble Lord had presented this Bill in the absence of the most rev. Prelate to whom he had alluded; and he thought that it would be a better and more convenient way, for the noble Lord to propose this measure as an amendment on the Bill which that rev. Prelate had introduced, to mitigate an evil, the existence of which the Bishops of the Church had never endeavoured to conceal, though the circumstances of the times had hitherto prevented them from applying a remedy to it. He should not, on this occasion, go into the provisions of the noble Lord's Bill, and waiving for the present, the consideration as to whether the noble Lord was correct as to the minimum or maximum of the value of livings, he would only remark, that the provisions of the Bill appeared to him to be exceedingly calculated to breed litigation in parishes, and to raise questions at law, as to whether the value of a benefice was a pound over the amount specified by the noble Lord. The result would be, that a Clergyman would be driven by his parishioners to his proof at law on the subject, before he could recover his tithes. There was another evil this Bill seemed calculated to produce, which was this—that where two parishes, not exceeding in value the sum of 500l., were united, their value might, in the course of years, and by accidental circumstances, become increased to 505l. or 510l., and the parishioners would be enabled by this Bill to refuse payment to the incumbent. He trusted, that if the noble Lord persevered in this measure, he would make considerable alterations in it; but he presumed, that the noble Lord would not persevere in carrying forward the measure.

Lord King

said, that this Bill, so far from being calculated to encourage litigation, would have the very contrary effect. The Bill would raise no questions of dispute, as to whether the average value did or did not exceed 500l., for it provided that, upon the tender of that sum, the clergyman would be prevented from getting more. He did not think, that it would be possible to unite it with the Bill which had been introduced by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Bishop of Bristol

entertained the same opinions as to the effect of the Bill, as the right rev. Prelate who had just spoken. He could state, from his own experience, that the value of livings frequently became increased in the course of time, for he had himself held a living, the value of which was increased, not by an addition of the tithes, but by the letting of land belonging to it at an augmented rent.

The Duke of Wellington

said, that it would be very inconvenient to discuss the provisions of a measure in such a stage; he could not, however, avoid observing, that it appeared to him, that this Bill went to make a direct attack upon the property of the Church. A clergyman had now the full right to recover the full amount of the tithes of a benefice which was in his possession; but if he (the Duke of Wellington) correctly understood the measure proposed by the noble Lord, if it were passed, a clergyman holding a plurality would be enabled to recover no more than 500l. a-year of the tithes. He should like to know, where the tithes exceeded that amount, what was to become of the remainder? To whom was it to be paid? He was sure, that their Lordships would see that they could not legislate upon such a principle as that, and that mere justice to the clergy of the country required that they should be protected in the possession of their property.

Lord King

would not go into a discussion of the Bill at this stage, but in reply to the noble Duke, he begged to say, that the Bill was prospective, and that it did not propose to interfere, with what existed at present. When a clergyman found, that he could not get more than 500l. a-year, he would not take a plurality which might increase his labour, but could not increase his reward. Clergymen were ready to take pluralities now, because they could get more than that amount.

Bill read a first time.