§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.
THE BISHOP OF OXFORD
said, there was one provision in this measure savouring of the principle of the Bill, to which he had an objection. In the Bill which this was intended to be a continuance of, it was provided, that if a reversion of tithes, or land in lieu of tithes, were to be sold, as a previous condition of such sale, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners should be required to take the present spiritual wants of the district into consideration. Now, by the present Bill, this condition, which operated in the nature of a safeguard for the claims of particular localities in regard to spiritual instruction, was altogether 145 omitted; and on that ground he objected to the measure in its present shape. In Committee he should take measures to remedy this great defect.
§ THE EARL OF POWIS
said, that in his opinion the House should have in the first instance full information as to the action of the Church Commission—what they had been about, what the result of their proceedings had been, how they had expended the immense sums that had been placed at their disposal, and whether the calculations on which they had acted in the distribution of ecclesiastical revenues had proved correct. Since 1837 vast quantities of property had been sold under the Act. From 1837 to 1840 episcopal property alone was dealt with, but from 1840 to 1850, under the Ecclesiastical Duties and Revenues Bill, a large amount of augmentation had been given out of capitular property to the poorer benefices. The Commissioners had received power to borrow 600,000l. from Queen Anne's Bounty fund, to be consumed in twenty years, in the expectation that by the end of that time the leases would become so much more valuable as to enable them to repay it, interest and capital, as well as to meet their grants to poor livings. From that time to this, however, not a single intelligible statement had been made as to whether their calculations were real or whether they were fallacious. By the account of last year the Commission had expended 9,500l. more than their annual income; the sum of 10,000l. being originally stated as the utmost limit, which they could not overpass. The episcopal portion of the accounts, which was formerly favourable, was now unfavourable; that was to say, the amount paid to the smaller sees was nearly 10,000l. a year more than was received from the larger ones. He found that in conformity with a promise which had been made when he brought the subject forward last Session, there was, in the accounts of the present year, some attempt to make a distinction between revenue and capital; but he complained that in respect of the whole of the transactions from the year 1837 to the year 1853, not only had no information been given, but there was not even the vestige of an attempt to give it. The result was, that the House must be in perfect ignorance whether the Commissioners had made an a extravagant amount of annual grants and incurred ex-travagant annual liabilities, or were acting within that prudent margin of 10,000l. a 146 year, which was the professed basis of their operations when Parliament allowed them to borrow that sum of money. Moreover, it was utterly impossible in these accounts to distinguish the income from the capital. If, therefore, the powers of the Church Estates Commission—against which, abstractedly, he had no objection—were to be renewed, be thought that an understanding should be first come to for submitting proper and decent accounts to Parliament in future. He might be told that it was a difficult thing in this case to distinguish revenue from capital. But if that were so, surely it was high time that the difficulty should be grappled with and mastered, and that they should not go on in this hand-to-mouth manner, utterly unable to determine whether their expenditure was justified or not, There was no reason, with which he was acquainted, why these accounts should not be given in such a shape that Parliament might be able at once to see whether the Commissioners had or had not incurred an amount of liabilities which was disproportionate to the means at their disposal. This system of grants and consumption of capital bad gone on for seventeen years, and he defied any one to ascertain from the accounts submitted to the House whether, at this moment, Church property was better or worse to the extent of hundreds of thousands of pounds than it was when the account began. Not being aware that the Bill was to come on for second reading today, he was unprepared to enter upon details. But having endeavoured to form some idea of the prudence of the transactions in which the Commissioners had been engaged, he could venture to assert that their accounts were utterly defective, that they did not furnish the information which Parliament was entitled to have, and would not enable one to form an opinion as to the accuracy of the principles or calculations upon which their proceedings were conducted; and he trusted that the Government, in continuing the Estates Commission, would give Parliament some security that more specific and intelligible accounts should in future years be laid upon the table.
§ THE EARL OF CHICHESTER
was understood, to say, that for a considerable number of years the Church Estates Commission had incurred no expenditure for grants except such as were obligatory under Acts of Parliament; but that calculations which had been made justified the hope that in a few years the Commissioners 147 would be able to resume the making of grants. He to a great extent agreed with the noble Earl (Earl Powis) that the kind of account to which he referred would be a useful document; but he denied that fuller accounts could be published. The accounts now published were as complete as they could be, though they were not on the plan desired by his noble Friend. That plan, if adopted, might not be so satisfactory to the House as it would be to his noble Friend, and he had rather therefore pause before altering the present system.
§ On Question, agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly; and committed to a Committee of the whole House.