HL Deb 08 July 1856 vol 143 cc491-3

THE EARL OF SHAFTESBURY moved the Second Reading of this Bill, which had passed through the Commons without opposition, and was intended to remove a great and growing evil. The immediate object of the Bill was to facilitate the sale of advowsons. As their Lordships were all aware, in many parts of this country advowsons were in the hands of large numbers of lay owners, and the presentations being generally by popular election scenes occurred which were very disgraceful. In fact, at these elections everything that was most scandalous to the Church, the good order, and the decencies of society, was perpetrated. He held in his hand a letter from Bilston, giving an account of the last election for a presentation that took place there. The election lasted five days, and 3,123 electors voted —every inhabitant, whether a householder or not, being entitled to vote. The letter stated that the cost to the unsuccessful candidate was about £1,600, and to the successful one about £5,000; that during the whole period of the election all the public-houses were open, and that drunkenness prevailed to a fearful extent. The writer added, that the whole thing was as bad as it could be, and that the moral effects remained for a very considerable time afterwards. This was but a repetition of a similar scene in 1813, and as the value of the living was increasing, at any future election a still more disgraceful scene, if such were possible, might be expected. Some time ago an election of this kind took place in Clerkenwell parish, in this metropolis; and so disgraceful, blasphemous, and indecent, were the expressions made use of by parties who took part in the proceedings, that he could not think of repeating them to their Lordships. All the indecent jokes and badinage that were uttered at elections for Members of Parliament, or any other public election where large masses were brought together, were exchanged amongst the crowd at these presentation elections; and surely such scenes on such occasions were in the last degree scandalous. The number of livings in this state of suffrage was about 150. The incomes attached to most of them were very small; in the majority of cases not reaching £150 a year. In 100 instances there were no parsonage houses. As the value of these livings was much too small to allow of a private Act of Parliament in each instance, it was now proposed to deal with the whole by a public Act. The Bill provided that the owners of these livings, or those in whom the right of election was vested, should meet and determine by a majority whether or not the advowson should be sold; that if sold, it should be absolutely vested in trustees for sale, and the money appropriated in paying the costs of sale, in providing a parsonage house where no such accommodation existed, or repairing the parsonage if dilapidated, in raising the value of the living to £150 a year, in providing for the maintenance of the fabric of the church, in the erection of schools, and increasing the amount of church accommodation in the parish.

Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Thursday next.