HL Deb 05 March 1832 vol 10 cc1107-11

The Archbishop of Canterbury moved that this Bill be read a second time.

The Earl of Eldon

expressed some hesitation in concurring in the measure as it stood, and had, therefore, to request, the Committee might be postponed; in which case he had no objection to allow the Bill to be read a second time at present. If, upon full consideration, however, the most reverend Primate should still be of opinion, that the Bill was likely to prove beneficial, his confidence in the judgment and prudence of his Grace, would induce him to acquiesce in it.

Lord King

begged to state, that it was not his intention to oppose the Bill as a whole because he did not think the existence of all pluralities in the Church an evil, but he hoped the Bill would be materially altered in the Committee. There were few persons, he believed, throughout the country, who did not now call themselves moderate Reformers, but then they would only concede the very minimum of Reform, and that was the character which this Bill deserved. It must be considered, from the very little way it went in remedying the evils of holding pluralities, to be the most unsatisfactory and disappointing that could have been brought forward. Such a measure might have been considered highly beneficial thirty years ago; but the change which had taken place in the minds of the people at large, during that period, would induce them to be anything but satisfied with this measure, if it was similar to that which was before the House last year, and he understood it was, and which went to limit the distance within which two livings might be held by the same incumbent, to thirty instead of forty-five miles, and the taking of livings beyond that limit, subjecting the clergyman doing so to the forfeiture of the first living so held by him, and this he understood to be the tenor of the present Bill. That there were great abuses existing in the Church, no one would have the temerity to deny; and the greatest of all these abuses was that of two rich benefices being held by one and the same person. But did this Bill go to the correction of that crying evil? Certainly not. The rule was, that all pluralities were abuses, and their existence could only be justified on special grounds, the principal one being, where the livings were so small and near together that the duties could be performed satisfactorily by the same person, and where the amount of the funds receivable in each case was only an adequate remuneration for the services actually performed. But, admitting the propriety of this exception to the general rule, was that any reason why two large and rich benefices should be held by the same person? Dispensations of this kind converted the profession of ministers of the Gospel into a trade, which had the lucre of gain for its object. There was nothing like this existing in the Roman Catholic Church, it being, in point of fact, an abuse which belonged exclusively to the Church of England. He had not yet been able to discover how it was, that a Bishop, in addition to his see, was allowed to hold a deanery, or a prebendary, or a large and wealthy living in commendam, and he wished to be informed whether this Bill remedied that abuse? If it did not, every friend of the Established Church must be satisfied the Bill would be of very little value, and could not possibly be considered satisfactory, more particularly when it was recollected that the religion of the Established Church was not the religion of the majority of the people of this country. He pledged himself to that fact; and the inference he drew from it was, that the Established Church, could not afford to lose its character, by permitting the continuance of such an abuse. If there was one circumstance more than another that would operate to benefit the interests of the Established Church, it would be that of preventing the holding of two great livings by the same individual, and that object this Bill did not go to effect. One of the principal evils resulting from the practice was, that it led to non-residence. The number of non-resident clergymen of the establishment, as appeared by the last return, greatly exceeded the number of those who were resident; the number of the former being 6,080, and of the latter 4,416. This was the great grievance which ought to be abolished. The Legislature had endeavoured, the House of Commons particularly, had made great efforts to remedy this abuse. The Act of Henry 8th, was passed for that purpose; so also, were those of Edward and Elizabeth; and, lastly, that of Charles, which ensued upon the second Reformation, an Act which had for its object to restore the ejected Ministers who had been turned out by Oliver Cromwell. That Act says—"If the Minister shall have been ejected out of two ecclesiastical benefices for the cure of souls, he shall be restored to one, and no more." These were the words of the Act of Charles 2nd. He did not think it necessary to stop to ask how the practice of holding pluralities began; certain it was, that it had existed for a long period, and that it had, from time to time, found apologists among the ministers of the Church. Bishop Hooker was one among the early apologists for the practice; and he said, "The number of livings in the Church is so great, and the number of learned men to fill them so small, that you must either not let the livings be severed, or you must have incompetent persons appointed to them. Of two evils choose the least: it is better that one learned and competent person should be appointed to two livings, than that they should be severed, and two unlearned men be appointed." Another reason assigned for non-residence was, in order to enable persons to reside at the University, for the purpose of obtaining further knowledge, that they might be more fitting for their occupation, and more useful in their calling at a future period. The reasons for the adoption of this practice might be very good ones at the time at which it originated; but they could not be considered applicable as regarded the present times. The clergy of the present day had attained a much greater degree of fitness for their sacred duties; and there was no reason to suppose that there would be any numerical deficiency in their body, or that the demand for their services would be greater than the means of supply. Bishop Burnett was of opinion, that many abuses had been purged out, but that many still continued in his time in the Church, among which was to be found that of pluralities, which had not been purged out, notwithstanding all the outcry that was made on the subject at the Reformation. These were abuses which the Church of Rome was ashamed of, and which Queen Mary even had endeavoured to root out. Such was the opinion of Burnett on pluralities, and non-residence and his authority was strengthened, if it needed any support by that of Archbishop Usher. It was wholly unnecessary to enter into any lengthened argument to show that the present Bill was in truth, nothing more than a mockery and delusion. He, therefore, hoped, when they came to consider it in Committee, the right reverend Bench would permit it to be rendered in some degree efficient, or they might depend upon its never becoming a law.

Lord Ellenborough

remarked, that the authority of Bishop Burnett might be very applicable to his own time, and for the purposes for which he wrote, but, with the circumstances of the present time, and the state of the Church, he must necessarily have been as ignorant as the noble Baron seemed to be of all that had passed since the days of that Prelate. The noble Baron seemed not to be aware that under the 7th George 3rd, the Bishops had the power to enforce the performance of Divine Service twice in every Church on the Sunday, and could compel the residence of either a Curate or Rector in each parish. They had also been empowered by the Legislature to see that the Curates who did the duty were paid salaries in proportion to the value of the living. The total abolition of all pluralities could only lead to the appointment of some Curates to small benefices. He recollected an observation made to him ten years ago by the most reverend Primate, that he did not think he could do a greater injury to a poor Curate than by giving him a poor living, since he thereby raised him to a higher station, and imposed on him the necessity of incurring additional expenses, without any proportionate increase of income. He granted that pluralities and non-residence were a scandal to the Church, but if that scandal did exist, it must be remedied by a different measure from the present Bill. It had been objected to this Bill that it did not prevent livings being held by Prelates in commendam. The noble Lord who made that objection ought to make himself better acquainted then he appeared to be with the provisions of the Bill. The practice was, in a great measure unavoidable. Some of the dioceses, were so poor that proper diocesans could not be found for them, unless they were improved by the addition of dignities in cathedrals, or by livings held in commendam. He would not object to the second reading of the Bill, although there were some parts of it which excited his apprehensions. It should be maturely considered whether they might not do an essential injury to the Church by abolishing curacies, or greatly reducing their number.

Bill read a second time.