HL Deb 16 May 1834 vol 23 cc1103-7
The Lord Chancellor

then proceeded: Though he was a friend to the Established Church of the country,—a firm supporter of its just dues, privileges, and rights, he always had been a friend to reform in the abuses of that Establishment, as much as the petitioners possibly could be, whose petition had been just laid on the Table. He might differ from them as to what constituted abuses in that Establishment; but this he would say, that, let any thing be shown to be an abuse, and let an efficacious remedy be proposed for it, and none would be found a warmer supporter of the adoption of such a remedy than he. Though it might happen, that some of their Lordships and the Members of the right reverend Bench might materially differ from him as to the kind of abuses that existed, and the reform which they required,—though he was afraid that they did differ upon that point, yet he was sure, that when he said, that if abuses existed in the Church Establishment they ought to be speedily redressed, he only expressed a sentiment in which all the members of the right reverend Bench, and all their Lordships, cordially concurred. It was in consistency with these opinions, that he had to present to their Lordships two Bills, upon which he had consulted with the other members of the Government, and the object of which was, to correct what he believed were generally admitted to be abuses in the Church Establishment. One of those Bills was to prevent Pluralities, and the other was to prevent the Non-residence of the Clergy. The first of these,—namely, pluralities, had long been one of the greatest abuses of the Establishment, a source of weakness to it, and a never-failing ground of objection, on which all the enemies of the Church Establishment had been always ready to fasten. It was an evil which, in his humble opinion, was ripe for the sickle, which had attained such a magnitude that it should be cut down, and no longer allowed to mar the benefits of the Church Establishment. No one would say, that there could be a greater evil than that of pluralities. He would not dwell at present at any length upon the abuse of non-residence. It was an abuse which had crept into the Establishment since its separation from the Catholic Church, which Church knew of, and recognized, no such thing as non-residence. Non-residence, in fact, was contrary to the Common Law, and contrary to the spirit of the Canon Law; and it only existed in consequence of various dispensations granted, to allow persons not to reside. This abuse had led to two great evils,—first, to a variety of Acts of Parliament on the subject; and secondly, to the granting of dispensations upon no rational or consistent principle. The law said, that the clergyman should reside, and that if a dispensation for non-residence should be granted to him, it should be on the ground of some other office which he filled which rendered continual residence on his living impossible. Now, chaplaincies were by law cases for dispensation. There were a great many chaplains to noblemen, to the judges, to the Attorney and Solicitor Generals, to the members of the Royal Family, &c. Each of the Chief Justices had six chaplains; he (the Lord Chancellor) himself had six. They certainly could not therefore complain of the want of large spiritual aid; and it was their own fault if they did not benefit by it. But while the law intended, by limiting the dispensations for non-residence to such offices, to restrict them to the select few, those chaplaincies had so increased in number, that any one who could get a living could get in that way a dispensation for non-residence; and the consequence was, that that which had been originally contrary to law had become the law itself. These Bills, therefore, after reciting and repealing all the previous acts which had been passed relative to pluralities and non-residence, by a simple, consistent, and adequate enactment, provided, that the holding of pluralities and non-residence should not be permitted on the part of any persons holding ecclesiastical dignities. That provision was, perhaps, too ample; and, if their Lordships pleased, a special exemption might be introduced with respect to superior dignitaries in the Church, who, upon various grounds, such as the necessity imposed upon them of attending their Parliamentary duties, could not be expected always to reside on their livings. He was not so tenacious of that portion of the Bill, that, should their Lordships make an alteration in it to that effect, he would give it up; on the contrary, he would persevere in it. The Bill provided, that all rectors, curates, and other inferior dignitaries, should reside upon their livings, except for two months in the year, under pain of forfeiture of treble the amount of the value of the living for the time they were absent from it. The only dispensations granted to them by the Bill for absence from their livings were in the cases of sickness, in cases where they were called away to give evidence, and in cases where the sickness or death of any of their relatives, or some such necessity, produced a temporary absence on their part, It was also provided in the Bill, that the cause of their absence must be stated on the face of the dispensation when it was granted. Their Lordships would find, that this Bill, regarding Non-residence, had been drawn up with the greatest possible care; he would venture to say, with greater care than any Bill that had been brought forward for the last fifteen months. The other—the Plurality Bill—laid the axe to the root of the evil. It enacted, that no person should hold two livings, if one was above the annual value of 200l. It was provided, also, that where a person held a living under the value of 200l., and where, therefore, he would be allowed to hold another in conjunction with it, that other should not be above the value of 100l. or 150l.; and that it should be contiguous to his other living, or, at all events, that the church in the one living should not be more than five miles distant from the church in the other. The exemption which he had stated was introduced into the Bill in order to meet the cases of those small livings, too many of which, he believed upwards of 4,000 in number, existed throughout the country. The principle upon which he went was, that, if a living was large enough to support a curate, he should be the rector of it, instead of his handing over a miserable 15l. or 20l. to a rector that did not reside. It would be said, perhaps, that the effect of this Bill would be to decrease the number of persons that would be educated for the Church. He pledged himself, that no such effect would follow from it. On the contrary, he was sure, that the same number would be educated for that profession when those regulations for putting an end to pluralities and non-residence should be put in force. The only exemption in the Bill was made in favour of prebendaries and canons, who would be allowed to hold small livings, not exceeding 100l. in value, in addition to their prebendal stalls and canonries. The noble Lord concluded by moving, that the Bills be read a first time.

Lord Bexley

begged to remind the noble and learned Lord, that pluralities were a legacy bequeathed to us by the Catholic Church, that they existed to a greater extent before the Reformation, and that they existed at present in Catholic countries to quite as great an extent as they did in this. He begged to remind the noble and learned Lord of the fact, that Cardinal Wolsey held the Archbishopric of York and the Bishoprics of Worcester and Winchester, in conjunction with the high offices he filled at the time in the State. No man could more rejoice than he should at seeing an effectual remedy, not productive of injustice, applied to such an evil. He, for one, would give his best attention to the details of those Bills.

The Marquess of Bute

was glad to find that Government had applied itself to these subjects, and he would give his best attention to both the measures. A Bill was introduced by the Archbishop of Canterbury, two years ago, on the subject of pluralities, and which was lost in the House of Commons. He had supported that Bill, though he did not think it went far enough; and he should readily support the Bills of the noble Lord.

The Earl of Radnor

said, that he had also supported the Bill referred to by the noble Marquess, because it was an admission, on the part of the Church, of the existence of the evil. He certainly considered it, in no respect, a sufficient remedy for that evil; and it was lost in the House of Commons because it did not go far enough. He trusted, that the provisions of the present Bill would go much further.

Lord Wynford

said, that, if the Bill should pass into a law, as far as property was concerned, the ministers of the Established Church would be infinitely below the sectarian ministers throughout the country.

The Bills were read a first time.