HL Deb 02 April 1832 vol 11 cc1166-78

The Archbishop of Canterbury moved the Order of the Day for reading the Pluralities Bill a third time.

Lord Suffield

said, it was his intention to have proposed an amendment in this stage of the Bill; but, on further consideration, recollecting that the Amendments he had proposed on a former occasion were rejected, he had resolved not to trouble their Lordships by proposing any Amendment upon the present occasion; but he could not suffer the Bill to pass without bestowing his parting benediction on the measure. He deeply regretted that, on an occasion when so much was pretended to be done, so little was actually effected: and he was convinced that the public would not be disposed to receive the Bill with satisfaction. The noble Earl at the head of his Majesty's Government had treated this Bill with great kindness, and had said that it was calculated to do good. Such being the case, it would be but fair on the part of the right rev. Prelates to meet the noble Earl in the spirit of reciprocity, and look with a degree of affection on the Bill of much more importance which the noble Earl had so lately introduced to their notice. With reference to the present Bill, he would take the liberty of referring their Lordships to certain documents he had brought together, because when a measure of this kind was proposed, which professed to remedy gross abuses, they must look to the disease to be cured, and the nature of the remedy, in order to understand whether it would answer the purpose intended. In that point of view he must observe, that the Bill would hardly alleviate the symptoms, much less cure the disease. He was not ashamed to confess that he was now better informed on the subject of pluralities than when he formerly mentioned the matter. He had received much information from correspondents, and had had access to several books and other documents: from these various sources he would furnish some details, which, he thought, would deserve their Lordships' consideration. A right rev. Prelate was pleased to say, on a former evening that his information had not been obtained from very pure sources; but some of his correspondents were known to be highly respectable. Indeed, there was one who was also a correspondent of the right rev. Prelate; he, therefore, presumed his testimony would not be objected to—he alluded to the rev. Edward Hull, who had published a letter to the right rev. Prelate on this subject, and who was a person of great learning and irreproachable character. He had availed himself of the information contained in this gentleman's letter to the right rev. Prelate, for the purpose of showing how the present system worked. He said,

'In consequence of this license for pluralities, and of the non-residence of the clergy, and from other causes, according to the Bishops' returns in the year 1807, in 11,164 parishes there were only 5,040 (query 5,080) resident incumbents, of whom some were only partially resident. The Earl of Harrowby, in his speech of the 18th of June, 1810, said, that, of these 5,080 virtually resident incumbents, only 4,412 were legally resident, 152 living in the parish, but not in the parsonage; 176 living near the parish, but not in it; and 304 exempt from residence, on account of cathedral or college offices, many of whom might probably be resident part of the year. Calling the number of parishes, therefore, in which there were resident incumbents 5,080, the number of parishes without resident incumbents was 6,124; and this non-residence, the Earl of Harrowby justly remarked, did not arise from the small value of the benefices, and their consequent inability to support resident incumbents; since, upon 7,167 of the richer benefices, 3,611 incumbents were non-resident. Thus, it appears that there were absent from one benefice, because they resided upon another, 1,797; the number, therefore, that must have been absent for other reasons must be 4,327—making together the whole number of 6124. Of these 632 were non-resident for satisfactory reasons: and 3,695 were non-resident for want of a house, or for want of inclination to reside.' Here he could not refrain from drawing their Lordships' attention to an advertisement which he had taken from a Norfolk paper, in order to show how desirable Church preferment, which called for the performance of no duty, was considered. The advertisement related to an offer for sale of a perpetual advowson of a living producing 650l. a-year, and it stated, that "the church is gone to sea." As some of their Lordships might be at a loss to know what this meant he would inform them—that the sea had made considerable encroachment on many parts of the coast of Norfolk, and the land on which this church stood was now under water. The value of this living was, therefore, enhanced by the circumstance of there being no church; and this was the way in which Church property was recommended when on sale, by the value attached to it, in consequence of there being a total absence of any duties to perform. Formerly there was a small penalty for non-residence, which penalty was increased by the 43rd, and 57th of George 3rd., and the residents increased in consequence of that alteration; but the number of non-residents, on account of pluralities, gradually increased; the number of non-residents in consequence of holding pluralities, at the former period was 1,797; while it appeared, by a recent return, that the number now was 2,100. The right rev. Prelate expected, by some process, which he did not profess to comprehend, that, by limiting the distance to thirty miles, the number of those non-resident on account of holding pluralities would be reduced from 2,100 to 700. But he would ask their Lordships, whether, it was possible, when there were no less than 1,000 individuals absent from their livings, in consequence of having cathedral or collegiate duties to perform, and who never would be resident, that such could be the result of this Bill, and whether such a practice could be allowed to continue, consistently with the principle on which the Bill was founded? It might be urged against him, that he was now, in effect, declaring himself hostile to pluralities altogether, when he proposed the continuance of them by one of the amendments which he offered to the House but a day or two ago. He allowed that he had done so, but his proposition went to an extent not liable to abuse. And, if he had erred on that occasion, it was in good company, and he had high authority to bear him out. By the Act of 37th Henry 8th power was given to unite contiguous parishes; the Act of 27th Charles 2nd empowered the uniting of churches in corporate towns; and an Act of the Commonwealth, passed in the year 1654, gave the power to unite two or more parishes, which, singly, were insufficient to afford a maintenance for their clergy. Bishop Burnet, in his denunciation of pluralities, excepted contiguous livings, when both livings could scarcely maintain one incumbent, and where one could do the duty. Dean Prideaux also proposed a bill to restrain pluralities, in 1691, and said, the evil was not in the holding one small living with another in the neighbourhood, but of holding two great ones at a distance from each other. There was no novelty, then, in his proposition, and nothing inconsistent with his dislike of pluralities. Having failed in his efforts to improve this Bill, by limiting pluralities to such circumstances, he now found himself compelled to show the iniquity of them altogether, by referring to what had been said against them by some of those who were ornaments to the Church. Mr. Hull's letter, which he had already quoted, said:—'Because an abuse has grown into an established custom, it is said it must be the greatest possible injustice to correct it. Is the injustice to be forgotten which is done to the inhabitants of those parishes which pay tithes to a non-resident incumbent, owing to their being deprived of the advantages which these tithes were established for the purpose of procuring them? They are thus robbed in things both spiritual and temporal, and the evils which arise from this injustice overbalance a hundred-fold the inconvenience which would arise to private families from the total abolition of pluralities. Was the Legislature guilty of injustice when it increased the fine inflicted for the non-residence of incumbents, and also when it passed a law to raise the salaries of curates? If ecclesiastical benefices are regarded in the light of private property, these Acts interfered with private property quite as much as would an Act to abolish the system of pluralities.' He must here observe, that Mr. Hull served the curacies of two parishes for 60l. per annum, that were six miles apart, and the livings were worth 1,000l. per annum. Mr. Hull had also informed him, that, in the county of Suffolk, in 1819, there were nine adjoining parishes without resident incumbents, eight without resident curates, and, in one of them duty was performed only once a month. Mr. Hull went on to quote the opinion of the good Bishop Bedell, who said, 'Plainly I do think thus—that, of all the diseases of the Church in these times next to that of the corruption of our Courts, this of pluralities is the most deadly and pestilent.' And he mentioned the severe reflection which this practice drew from a witty man—'When (said he) such betrayers and abandoners of that trust which Christ purchased with his own blood, found good and faithful curates worthily performing the obligations of the pastoral care, the incumbent should be saved by proxy, but be damned in person.' Our ancestors, then, were opposed to pluralities, as they passed statutes against them, which were always evaded by the power of dispensation. At the time of the Reformation, when the Papal authority was abolished, the power of dis- pensation was transferred from the Pope to the King and the Archbishop; and prevented the complete reformation of the Church, as it still continued to prevent the reform of abuses. In saying this he meant nothing disrespectful to the most rev. Prelate: he spoke only of the system. Bishop Burnet called the power of dispensation a relic of the manifest corruptions of Popery. His object was, to better the condition of the poorer order of the clergy. It was with that view he framed the propositions which he had the honour to submit to their Lordships, he thought it necessary, also, to show that his principle of relieving the poorer clergy was sanctioned by precedent and high authority. It was advocated in 1736 by the great Lord Hardwicke. In 1801, Mr. Whitebread urged the propriety of a better distribution of Church property. In 1810, Lord Holland proposed to relieve the poor clergy by taxing rich benefices. Having contended against pluralities, it was perhaps but fair that he should advert to the reasons advanced in favour of them. Bishop Hooker approved of pluralities on three grounds: The first was the great number of parishes, and the impossibility of finding a sufficient number of learned men to perform duty in them. The second ground on which Hooker defended pluralities was, that they afford clergymen an opportunity of residing in Bishops' families, which were schools of gravity, discretion, and wisdom; and the third ground was, the necessity of establishing clergymen in the houses of the nobility, who thought it beneath them to attend the parish Church. These were the apologies which Hooker advanced for pluralities; but the right rev. Prelates would hardly avail themselves of such statements in these days. Their Lordships would be very sorry to have it supposed that they considered it beneath them to attend their parish churches. He had also heard it said, as an apology for pluralities, that a good curate would answer every purpose for which an incumbent was required. It was quite evident, however, that a poor curate was incapable of performing the important duty of administering to the temporal wants of the clergyman's flock. Again, it was said, that the good which resulted from the learning and assiduity of the pluralists more than counterbalanced the evil of non-residence; as if, as Dean Prideaux observed, "by saving one man's life, you have a right to kill two," On this point he was happy to have the authority also of a known friend to the Church, and one to whom the right rev. Prelates acknowledged the Church was much indebted. On the 21st of May 1813, the Earl of Eldon, in opposing the Stipendiary Curates Bill, said—"Why not enforce the residence of the incumbent by declaring, that if he did not reside, he should forfeit the living."* It was also said, that high prizes were necessary in order to tempt noblemen's sons to enter the Church. Admitting, for argument's sake, that the connexion of the nobility with the Church was advantageous to the establishment, still it was more important to adopt measures which would enlist the affections of the people in support of the Church, than to pursue an unpopular course, in order to meet the selfish views of such of the Aristocracy as looked forward to the high prizes which had been spoken of as a provision for their children. He could not conclude without once more expressing his extreme regret that a more efficient measure had not been brought forward; and he believed that, when the public had an opportunity of considering this Bill, they would participate in his regret. He earnestly wished that the most rev. Prelate had adopted the suggestion of withdrawing the Bill for the present, and introducing a more efficient one on a future occasion. The public would not be satisfied with anything less than the total abolition of pluralities, the union of small contiguous parishes, and a better appropriation of the revenues of large livings. If these reforms were effected the Church would attain that place in public esteem it was most desirable it should possess.

The Bishop of Durham

would not have troubled their Lordships, had it not been for the gross misrepresentations which had been circulated respecting the extent of pluralities in his diocese. But being on his legs, before he entered into that subject, he would say, of a subject much discussed—namely, annexing commendams to Episcopal Sees, that he was of opinion, that several improvements might be made in that; but, at the same time, he must remind their Lordships that they belonged to the prerogatives of the Crown, and were not in the hands of the Bishops. It was, in his opinion, for the Ministers to propose these improvements, and to carry them *Hansard, vol. xxvi. p. 297. into effect, not the members of that body to which he had the honour to belong. What, however, made him wish to address their Lordships was, a letter in The Times newspaper of Friday last, in which, amongst other exaggerations, it was stated that the Bishop of St. David's, who was also Dean of Durham, derived an income of 12,000l. a-year from his See and pluralities. This was not correct; nor did the income of that right rev. Prelate amount to two-thirds of that sum. The next case that was referred to was that of the Bishop of Exeter, Prebendary of Durham; but it was well known that he resigned a living which he held in commendam, and that this prebend was given to him by the Crown in lieu of it, though it was inferior in value. The Bishop of Bristol was also a Prebendary of Durham, but he, too, had given up a living of greater value, that of Bishop Wearmouth, than the one which was conferred upon him. With regard to the Bishop of Chester, also, it was matter of notoriety that he had vacated a large living. These things did not concern him (the Bishop of Durham) they were all the gifts of the Crown, and they were as unexceptionable as any commendams. The next in the list was the hon. and rev. Dr. Wellesley. He did not know what the Chaplainship of Hampton Court, which Dr. Wellesley was represented as holding, was worth; he believed its value to be very small, and he knew that it was the intention of Dr. Wellesley to devote himself exclusively to his Prebend of Durham, and the rectory of Bishop Wear-mouth, which were so contiguous as to enable him to fulfil efficiently the duties of both. He now came to the instance in which he himself was most interested, that of Mr. Archdeacon Thorp who was stated to have no less than eight benefices to his share, viz., "Prebendary of Durham, Prebendary of Brecon, Archdeacon of Durham, Rector of Ryton, Rector of Easington, Chaplain to the Bishop of Durham, Principal Warden of the Durham University, and Trustee of Lord Crewe's Charity, with a house at Bamborough;" a goodly assortment truly, but which he must reduce to two benefices only, as he would explain. Mr. Thorp was not, nor ever had been, his chaplain. He was an entire stranger to him, when he was appointed to the diocese; and was the Rector of Ryton only. He had afterwards given him a Prebend of Durham. He had also for some time acted gratuitously as official to the Archdeacon of Durham, who, from his advanced age, was unable to discharge the duties of the office. On the Archdeacon's resignation last December, he appointed Mr. Thorp his successor. The rectory of Easington was an impropriate rectory, constituting the endowment of the Archdeaconry, and which, at the present moment, Mr. Thorp actually held with his stall and the Rectory of Ryton. But he had already in their Lordships' House, a Bill to enable him to separate the Rectory of Easington from the Archdeaconry, for the purpose of making it a spiritual benefice with cure of souls, and annexing, in lieu of it, that prebend which Mr. Thorp already had in possession. As soon as this could be completed, Mr. Thorp necessarily would resign either Easington or Ryton, and be in possession of his stall and one rectory only, being precisely circumstanced as he was before his acceptance of the archdeaconry, and deriving from that no additional emolument whatever. That he was not, nor ever had been, his chaplain, he had already mentioned; and his promotion of him to the archdeaconry, was solely on the ground of his acknowledged worth, there being no individual in the diocese more universally esteemed, nor any, he believed, who could have been so unanimously approved of as decidedly the fittest person to fill the office. As to the Wardenship of the Durham University, that was as yet in nubibus only, though he hoped the Institution would in due time come forth and prosper. At his request, Mr. Thorp undertook the office provisionally, and to continue as long as circumstances may require. The office, however, he undertook gratuitously; and by so doing relieved the institution in its infant state from a considerable burthen it must otherwise provide for. His situation, as already a prebendary, enabled him to do this, and he need not say how greatly it redounded to his credit. With respect to the last appointment named, that of a trustee to Lord Crewe's Charity, it was almost ludicrous. This office had no emoluments attached to it. The trustees were chiefly appointed from the Chapter, the Bishop having no concern in it. The house, Bamborough Castle, well known as one of the noblest remains of antiquity in the kingdom, was kept up at the expense of the Trust; and one or other of the trustees occasionally occupied it for a few weeks, to superintend the local purposes of the charity. To represent this as an ecclesiastical benefice was utterly absurd. As well might he be called a pluralist, by being a governor or trustee of any public charity whatsoever. Yet such was the attempt to represent as an enormous pluralist, one of the most estimable clergymen in the kingdom. The last case required but few words. It was that of Mr. Gilly, described as "Prebendary of Durham, Vicar of Norham, near Berwick, and perpetual Curate of Crossgate, Durham." Mr. Gilly resigned his perpetual curacy in Durham, on taking the vicarage of Norham, which was a chapter living. He had, therefore, only his prebend, and Norham vicarage, dividing his residence on each in nearly equal portions. He ought, perhaps, to apologize for wearying their Lordships with these details. But really such gross and unfounded representations seemed to call for some notice, and, as in some degree connected with himself, he had felt them the more strongly. With respect, however, to pluralities in general, he might add, that he believed there were fewer of them, in proportion, in the diocese of Durham than in any other. He had never yet given a living in plurality in the diocese, nor intended to do so. And he might also say of his clergy, in general, that they were a valuable body of men, attentive to their duties, and ready to adopt any improvements that might be recommended; he had only to add that the letter he had noticed was signed Dunelmenses. If the information he had thus gone through really emanated from a Durham correspondent, all he should say was, that the misrepresentations it contained were the less excusable.

Lord King

said, the right rev. Prelate had endeavoured to show that at least the part of the Church connected with Durham was not overpaid, and that it presented an instance of remuneration only for services performed. They might certainly have been deceived respecting the emoluments of certain parts of the Church of England, but it by no means followed that the system was a good one. The yearly value of the deanery of Durham was, it appeared, less than they had imagined; it had been estimated at 12,000l., but it produced only 8,000l. a-year; but they had not yet been able to learn the real value of the "golden stalls." As they were promised a valuation, he trusted they would soon be favoured with an accurate account of the revenues of the See of Durham. He contended that the Bill was partial, inasmuch as it would not interfere with the Bishops themselves. He considered the Bill smelt of Jesuitism—it was one of those samples of Tory legislation which aggrandized the few at the expense of the many. He thought it was very short-sighted policy on the part of the Church to bring this Bill forward. Better leave matters as they were, than show what a miserable bit-by-bit Reform the Church would consent to. One of the arguments urged in favour of pluralities, was the necessity of having high prizes as rewards for extraordinary merit. In order that these high prizes should be given to those who deserved them, he had, on a former evening, proposed to insert a clause enacting that pluralities should be held only by the persons who obtained high honours at the Universities. This, he was told, was the worst test of merit he could possibly have fixed upon. He called upon the right rev. Bench to name any test of merit they pleased; but they had mentioned none, and, therefore, he feared that it was not intended to bestow the high prizes upon the most worthy. It was said, that there was no harm in pluralities when curates were provided to execute the duties attached to the livings. If curates were sufficiently paid for the discharge of their duties, all the money which the incumbents who appointed them received, was so much more paid than was necessary for the execution of the duties, and should either be paid to the State, or allowed to remain in the pockets of the people. It was now said, that there would be a new valuation of Church property. Why was not this begun when the See of Derry was vacant? He understood that Ministers wished to reduce the emoluments of that See, but that there was an insurmountable objection to the measure on the part of the Bishops.

The Bishop of Bristol

said, that as he had been alluded to by his right rev. brother, he begged to state that it had always been a subject of regret to him that the living of Almondsbury had been annexed to the See of Bristol: he was anxious to give it up; and was only restrained from so doing by the consideration that the revenues of the See would be reduced too much. The fact was, the curate of this living was better off than the rector, He was to be paid 250l. per annum, together with rent, taxes, and so forth; for there was no glebe-house, and the parish was, in all respects, badly circumstanced, and returned no more than 700l. a-year.

Earl Grey

regretted the tone in which his noble friend had addressed their Lordships, during the discussions on this Bill. He thought that the thanks of their Lordships were due to the dignitaries of the Church, for the disposition which they had shown to meet public feeling in favour of the reform of the abuses of the Church, by the introduction of the present Bill, which had originated as, in his opinion, all such measures should originate, with the head of the Church. The most that could be objected to the Bill was, as he had stated on a former occasion, that it did not go far enough. That, however, was not a reason for opposing the progress of the measure. It appeared to him that there was no ground for asserting that the Bill was framed with the view of protecting the interests of the Bishops, and that the framers of it had avoided doing more than they were absolutely compelled to do. He would not support the measure if it deserved that character; but, seeing in the Bill the evidence of a sincere desire on the part of the Church to reform the abuses which were complained of, and believing that it would be a considerable step towards reformation, he had given, and would continue to give, it his warmest support. His noble friend had, on many occasions, condemned the system of pluralities, but his objection was not a reason for opposing the Bill, which nobody could deny went some way towards the correction of that evil. He looked upon the Bill as evidence of a sincere desire on the part of the Church to remedy the abuses so justly complained of in the establishment, and as an earnest of its intention to carry reform further whenever a favourable opportunity should occur for doing so. The most rev. Prelate's proposition for a new valuation of Church property was by no means the consequence of any discussion which had taken place with respect to this Bill, for very shortly after he had entered the Ministry, the most rev. Prelate informed him that he intended to move for the appointment of an Ecclesiastical Commission for the purpose of making a Report on the general state of Church property, with a view of introducing some improvement on that subject. He was very glad that a right rev. Prelate had taken an opportunity of exposing one of those shameful exaggerations by which the public mind was abused. He was somewhat implicated in the charge which had been brought against the Bishop of Exeter in the publication which had been referred to. At the time that right rev. Prelate was appointed to his present See, he held a very valuable living. As this living was a cure of souls, it was not thought fitting that a Bishop should hold it in commendam, and, therefore, the right rev. Prelate exchanged it for a prebend of Durham, which was a much less valuable preferment. He was a party to that arrangement, which he thought was perfectly blameless. The right rev. Prelate had given a most satisfactory answer to the charge which had been brought against the rev. Mr. Thorp. It appeared that that gentleman held only two preferments instead of eight, as had been asserted in the newspapers, and no one who knew his high deserts, and the exemplary manner in which he discharged his duties, could think that he was overpaid. He would conclude by expressing a hope that the reform of Church abuses would be continued until the Establishment should be permanently based on the affections of the people.

Bill read a third time, and passed.

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