HL Deb 29 July 1831 vol 5 cc515-9

The Archbishop of Canterbury rose, to move the second reading of the Bill for the Augmentation of the Incomes of small Church Livings. The object of the Bill was, to extend the provisions of an Act, of Charles 2nd, entitled, "An Act for confirming and perpetuating Augmentations made by Ecclesiastical Persons to small Vicarages and Curacies, and for other Purposes." That Act had been passed with a view similar to that which he contemplated, but it had not gone far enough towards effecting its object. It was not his intention, at present, to enter at large on the subject, of appropriations or impropriations, but those who wished to make themselves fully acquainted with it, might consult a letter which had been written to Mr. Percival by Lord Harrowby, which had been recently reprinted, and in which the subject was treated in a full, clear, and lucid manner. He would only observe, that great abuses had prevailed, as to appropriations, from the time of the Conquest to that of the Reformation, and that, instead of being remedied at the Reformation, they had been confirmed and perpetuated. This state of things continued during the reign of Elizabeth. On the accession of James, many attempts had been made to correct these abuses, and at the Restoration an excellent opportunity was presented for that purpose, had it been taken advantage of. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London of that time, had been distinguished for their exertions to get a portion of the revenue of the Church applied to the augmentation of small livings, but they had not been very successful. In the reign of Charles 2nd, an Act was passed to enable impropriators to apply part of their tithes to the augmentation of small livings; and the object of this Bill was, to extend its provisions, and to allow Collegiate Bodies, and Hospitals, and Spiritual Corporations, to apply a portion of their ecclesiastical revenues to the augmentation of small rectories, vicarages, and curacies; and it was proposed, that the incumbents of the richer livings should be empowered, with the consent of the bishop and patron, to assign part of the tithes of their livings to the augmentation of small livings, such assignments to be binding on the successors. He knew, that, if the Bill should pass, there were incumbents of rich livings who were prepared to assign a portion of their tithes in this way, and he was, therefore, warranted in saying, that this measure would do a great deal of good. The condition of the clergy would thus be improved, without any violent revolution of property. But in order to have the provisions of this Bill carried into execution in the safest and most efficient manner, he had taken steps towards instituting an inquiry into the state of Church property. The Bill was no new measure of his. It had been proposed some years before among a series of Bills which prepared for the improvement of the state of the Church. He had the satisfaction to state, that he had received encouragement and support in effecting his object of improving the condition of the Church from two successive Administrations. Both the noble Duke opposite and the noble Earl who succeeded, had been equally well disposed to make such improvements in the Church as should be sanctioned by the heads of it. And he had to thank both the noble Duke and his successor for their kindness and courtesy. In conclusion, he had to observe, that this was no concession to unreasonable clamour, but only an improvement which was really called for, and might be safely carried into effect.

The Lord Chancellor

had, as was his duty, examined the provisions of the Bill, and had only to express his high satisfaction with the Bill, and his thanks to the most reverend Prelate for his valuable and judicious improvements. It was not surprising that men should have different views on the subject of tithes, and that a most reverend Prelate and a noble and learned friend of his (Lord Eldon) had differed about the provisions of the Tithe Composition Bill. But, on this Bill, he thought there could be no difference of opinion in any quarter. It was not very long ago, since there were livings in the Church, of an income so low as 5l., or 6l., or 8l. a-year. That state of things had been since altered for the better; but he believed, that there were still from 800 to 1,000 livings of not more than 60l. a-year. This was really no more than was often given as wages to a menial servant. There were many of their Lordships who had menial servants to whom they paid 60l., and some to whom, with board wages, they paid 80l. Now, it was not fitting, that men of education, important members of society, and sometimes men of great parts, should be placed, as to income, on the footing of menial servants. It was, therefore, highly desirable, by all reasonable and fair means, to promote the equalization of Church livings, and this measure was calculated to promote that object. He knew of several persons who were prepared to avail themselves of the passing of this Bill to contribute to the augmentation of small livings, and therefore it would be of great utility. The disparity of livings was an evil from which the Church in the north- ern part of the island was entirely exempt. In the Church of Scotland, there was no living of a less income than 150l. a-year, and the average might be taken at 200l. a-year. It was highly desirable, that here, where the whole revenue of the Church was so much larger, the incomes of the smaller livings should be considerably augmented. He concluded by again thanking the most reverend Prelate for the attention which he had paid to this subject, and for his valuable and judicious improvements.

The Bishop of London

expressed his high satisfaction at the prospect of having an inquiry instituted into the state of the revenues of the Church. The Church had no cause to fear a full investigation into the state of its revenue, and if it had any cause to fear, that would be a reason for inquiry. The inquiry would be highly beneficial, as it would lead to just and correct views of the real state of the Church revenue, instead of those views which were founded only on the most unjust and exaggerated statements which were often put forth on this subject—statements which, though frequently rebutted, still continued to be repeated, and could never be put down but by a thorough inquiry, such as that which it was now proposed to institute. He believed, that it would turn out, that the Church property did not amount to one-third of that sum which it was represented to be. Another advantage of this inquiry would be, that it would serve as the groundwork of the improved distribution of the Church revenues. Defects were apt to creep into all institutions, and these, from time to time, it was necessary to remedy. When it should once be fairly seen what the revenues of the Church really were, he believed, that there would be no desire, on the part of any reasonable man, to encroach on them. The people had a right to look to the improvement of the condition of the Church, and to call for that improvement in any way which did not infringe on the great principles on which the Church was constituted. There would be difficulties in the way of carrying into effect the provisions of this Bill, as there were difficulties in the way of carrying into execution almost all great and complicated plans, but it would be of great assistance and advantage, that every thing to be done would be based on the result of this inquiry. The inquiry would afford the means of giving efficiency to the provisions of the Bill, which might, therefore, be considered as well calculated to answer its great purpose. He would not, at present, trouble their Lordships by any explanation of his own notions on the state of the Church property, since the matter would be so much better elucidated by the intended inquiry. He also was persuaded, that the incumbents of the richer livings would not be backward to promote the objects of this Bill, although it would not be proper to be too sanguine as to the assistance to be derived from this, since there were few livings so rich as they were generally supposed to be; and, therefore, it would be the more desirable, that every exertion should be made to have the small livings augmented by the other methods. On the whole, he thought, that the country had reason to be satisfied with the measures now in progress for the improvement of the Church.

Bill read a second time.