HL Deb 10 May 1836 vol 33 cc799-803

On the motion of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the House resolved itself into a Committee on the Benefices, Pluralities, and residence of Clergy Bill.

On the Second Clause being proposed,

Lord Wynford

said, there were several propositions which he wished to submit to their Lordships. By the Bill, as it at present stood, no clergyman was allowed to hold two benefices that were distant from each other above ten miles. Now, he could see no reason for that restriction; and his first proposition would be, that instead of ten, the distance should be fixed at forty-five miles. It could not be contended that the duties might not be as effectually performed at a distance of forty-five as of ten miles; for the only function which in either case could be executed would be, that of control and superintendence over the curate, which might be discharged as well in the one case as the other. His other proposition regarded the provision, which fixed 500l. as the amount of income which was to incapacitate an incumbent from holding two livings. He need not point out to their Lordships with what peculiar hardship that enactment would fall upon those whose income slightly exceeded that limit, and who would thereby be prevented from acquiring any increase of income; whilst others whose first living was within the required limit, would have the power of increasing it far beyond the amount of 500l. He should propose, at the proper time, that 1,000l. be the limit, instead of 500l.

The Duke of Richmond

trusted, that the right reverend Prelate would not consent to the amendment just proposed by the noble Lord (Wynford). It appeared to him an extraordinary proposition that the duties of a living situated at the distance of forty-five miles from the residence of the incumbent, could be so effectually performed as those of a living only distant ten miles. He was confident the noble Lord must have been thinking of the railroads at the time when he made that assertion; for a railroad between the two livings most assuredly would be ne- cessary, if forty-five miles was to be the distance fixed upon.

The Bishop of Oxford

thought the distance of ten miles would render it nearly impossible for any clergyman to hold two livings.

The Earl of Ripon

objected to the proposal of the noble Lord (Lord Wynford). He, for one, was not willing that the clergy of England should be subject to be thrown off a railroad, while on a visit of charity two or three times every week.

Lord Wynford

explained. This was an attempt to abolish pluralities entirely by a side wind. He had no objection to the entire abolition of pluralities—that might be a very excellent measure; but then the Legislature should carry it into effect in a direct and intelligible manner.

The Bishop of London

denied that this Bill was an attempt by any side-wind to get rid of pluralities. It was an attempt to confine them within as small a space as possible—that the livings might be under the control and constant inspection of the incumbents. It was an attempt also to get rid of the inconveniences arising from the present system. Unless an incumbent was a very conscientious person, he was scarcely ever seen at his second living, and there were cases in which incumbents were not known, except through their tithe-agents. One advantage he was quite certain would follow from the extinction of pluralities, that it would be an additional inducement to patrons to make an augmentation in the livings.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

declared that the object he had in view in proposing and supporting this Bill, was to put an end to a system which was decidedly contrary to the canonical law. It was his endeavour in this Bill to comply with that law, as far as it was possible. He denied that the restriction imposed in this Bill of precluding the distance between two livings being beyond ten miles, would be an absolute prohibition upon pluralities. If they looked to the south of England they would find that there were a great many benefices to be found included within the space of ten miles.

Lord Wynford

replied, that he did not come to that House to argue for rectories. He felt great pleasure in saying, that the most reverend Prelate had convinced him he took an erroneous view of this point.

The Clause was agreed to.

On Clause 3 being put,

The Bishop of Exeter

said, that, however popular it might be in that House or elsewhere to do away with pluralities, he protested against the restricting of pluralities within the limitation of ten miles. Pluralities must be endured, and he was sorry to see an attempt made to put an end to them, even in deference to the feeling of the country, which he knew to be strong. If the system were carried to the extent proposed, there would be no probationary occupation for the clergy. In the south of Scotland, there were a variety of persons called probationers and ordained clergymen, of which number Dr. Chalmers had assured him that he himself had been one. He wished to see such clergymen as the meritorious rectors of the great parishes of the metropolis and other towns, endowed with small cures, at which they might take some months' recreation in every year from their painful duties. For men in such a situation assuredly 1,000l. a-year was not too much, and in his opinion, their Lordships would do a great mischief by doing away with pluralities.

The Bishop of London

denied that the Bill would do away with pluralities. It would only restrict them.

The Earl of Harrowby

contended it was not at all necessary to give a clergyman to each parish, for many parishes were not now sufficiently populous to require the exclusive attention of a minister, and noble Lords, he thought, would feel that this observation applied with more force when they recollected that emoluments in the Church were often in the inverse ratio to population and duties; it therefore became impossible to rectify these imperfections otherwise than by pluralities. Holding those opinions, he still thought it most desirable that arrangements should be made with regard to Church benefices, tending as much as circumstances would allow to equalize emoluments; but as to any other application of ecclesiastical funds—as to abstracting a shilling from the property of the Church, no man in his senses, who had considered the question, would seriously entertain such a notion, unless he contemplated the destruction of the Church.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

observed, that noble Lords should bear in mind that there were other parties than themselves to the passing of the Bill, and he hoped they would also recollect that its failure would be most unfortunate.

On Clause 4,

Lord Wynford

objected to it as very unequal. If a man held a living under the value of 500l., he might hold another of nearly the same value, and thus have an income of nearly 1,000l., while a clergyman, whose living was worth rather more than 500l. could not hold a second living. He had a clause prepared as a substitute for the 4th Clause, and he therefore should move, That the clause be expunged.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

had no very material objection to the views of the noble Lord, as they coincided with those he had embodied into a Bill last year. He could not, however, consent to expunge the clause, for that would leave every clergyman at liberty to hold two or more livings.

Lord Wynford

would adapt his amendment to the views of the most reverend prelate.

Lord Ashburton

did not wish to increase the dependence of the inferior clergy on the Bishops, and he would rather that the privilege of holding two livings should be conceded direct by Parliament, than that it should be dependent on the sanction of the Bishop.

The Archbishop of Canterbury

said, every clergyman could purchase a plurality of benefices, but he must be examined by the Archbishop who had the power to disqualify him. The clergy did not, he believed, think themselves disgraced by that power. He had ever found the clergy cordially disposed, and the intercourse between them and the Bishops was one of mutual liberality. All the scandal brought upon the Church was occasioned by a few instances of improper conduct which the Bishops had no power to punish. To enable the Bishops to punish such clergymen by depriving them of their property, or by some other means, was indispensable to preserve the Church free from scandal.

Lord Ashburton

had been, he was afraid, misunderstood. What he desired was, to see the clergy subjected to law, instead of being exposed to what he might call the caprice of individuals.

The Bishop of London

wished to see the clergy not dependent on the Bishops, but there must be some means of preserving discipline. He claimed on the part of the Bishops of the Church of England, the credit of having exercised the power intrusted to them, without abusing it. Plu- ralities were altogether an innovation and an abuse, but as circumstances were at present in the Churchy they must be tolerated, and no persons were so fit to have the power of regulating them as the Bishops. He knew cases of clergymen holding, within a circle of ten miles, livings to the amount of 2,000l., every one of which was under 500l. a-year. That was a case for the interference of the Bishops; and if they had the power to object to such a state of things, but no power to alter it, unless the metropolitan confirmed the objection, he could not conceive that any but the most beneficial effect could arise.

The Duke of Wellington

was concerned that measures had not been before adopted to improve the discipline of the Church. A Commission had inquired into the subject, but no remedy for the abuses had been devised. He was convinced that it was necessary to preserve that part of the clause which gave increased power to the Bishops.

Lord Wynford

would confine his amendment to altering the income, above which no person should hold two livings from 500l. to 1,000l.

The Committee divided on the original clause:—Contents 2.9; Not-Contents 7: majority 22.

The clause to stand part of the Bill.

The remaining clauses were agreed to; the House resumed, and the Report was received.