HL Deb 26 June 1860 vol 159 cc977-86

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


said, the object of the Bill of which he now moved the second reading was simply to give authority to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, in making additional provision for the cure of souls, to give due consideration to the wants and circumstances of the places from which they derived revenues from any lands or hereditaments. The Ecclesiastical Commission Act of 1840 contained a provision similar to this as far as it went, inasmuch as it directed that due provision should be made for local wants out of the tithes arising in the respective localities; and a Select Committee of their Lordships' House had reported in favour of the principle of expending the Revenues received by the Commissioners in the places wherein they had been received, and of attending, as a first duty, to the spiritual wants of the people of such districts. The diocese of Durham, over which he had formerly presided, was very deeply interested in the decision of this question, and, no doubt, other dioceses and parishes in va- rious parts of the country were similarly affected. He would, however, illustrate the peculiarities of the case from the circumstances affecting the diocese of Durham, and with which, therefore, he was personally acquainted. The condition of the diocese of Durham was this:—The average population in each benefice or parish in other counties was 1,398, while in the county of Durham the average population was 2,708. The average number of acres in the parishes of other dioceses was 3,277; the average number in the parishes of the diocese of Durham was 7,566. The increase in population in the county of Durham between 1841 and 1851 was 27 per cent; and the increase in Lancashire during the corresponding period was 22 per cent, and in Middlesex 20 per cent. In the five most populous places in the diocese of Durham—namely, Newcastle, Gateshead, Tynemouth, Shields, and Darlington—the population in each parish or district exceeded 7,000; while in Salford, Manchester, and Liverpool, it was in each parish or district not more than 5,400. With these facts before them he thought it was absolutely necessary that something should be done to remedy the great evils which existed in the diocese of Durham. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners were abstracting a large sum annually from that diocese—which they applied to the general purposes of the Commission; last year they received no less than £55,000 from it. The consequence was that in those parts of the diocese in which there was Church property, the people were just to that extent deprived of that relief which they would have received if that property had been continued in ecclesiastical hands. The present state of the law was such that it acted very unfavourably indeed against those parts of the kingdom in which there were local claims. This state of things being well ascertained, a large meeting was some time ago held in Newcastle, and a deputation appointed to wait on the Prime Minister. The result was extremely satisfactory. The answer of the noble Lord at the head of the Government was, "It is quite obvious and equitable that a preferential consideration should be given to local claims." To the principle of the Bill now before them their Lordships had already assented. A general Bill had been before Parliament since the 2nd of February in the present year. Five months had elapsed since that date, and it had only been read a second time in "another place" last night. The Bill which he now asked their Lordships to read a second time was, in fact, a supplemental measure, to provide a remedy for existing evils, in the event of the Bill now in the Lower House not being passed during the present Session. The promoters thought that those miners and other operatives who, by the sweat of their brow, increased the revenues of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, should have their spiritual wants provided for before the money passed into the Common Fund. It might be said that spiritual destitution prevailed in other parts of the country, and that the people in those places would suffer if this Bill passed; but as he still contended that those who provided the revenues had the first right to the benefit of them, and as the passing of the Bill in the other House was a matter of uncertainty, he asked their Lordships to accede to his Motion.

Moved, that the Bill be now read 2a.


said, he felt himself compelled, though reluctantly, to oppose the Motion of the most rev. Prelate, who he knew had strong feelings as to the justice of this measure, but he should be wanting in his duty to the House if he did not frankly but shortly state the reasons which convinced him that the Bill now before the House ought not to be passed into law. The great difference between the Bill before the other House of Parliament and that now before their Lordships was, that the former was a general measure, by which powers were given to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to deal more largely and efficiently with Church property, in order to meet the spiritual wants of the whole country; whereas the object of the latter was only to give certain places a claim before all others for assistance from the common fund. He would not venture to say what would be the effect on this fund, but it was clear that to whatever extent certain districts had a preference given to them in the distribution of the funds, other districts which were excluded from that preference must suffer in proportion. Their claims, however urgent, would have to be postponed. The measure of the most rev. Prelate practically created a number of new charges upon the Common Fund without doing anything to increase the resources from which that fund was supplied. The larger measure, contained similar clauses with respect to local claims, but then its other pro- visions would tend to increase the value of Church property, and so augment the means at the Commissioners' disposal. He could not approve of these special provisions in favour of local claims being separately enacted, as proposed by the Bill of the most rev. Prelate.


suggested that the Bill should be postponed until their Lordships saw reason to doubt whether the Bill would come up from the other House in time to pass during the present Session.


would not object to the suggestion of the noble Earl, provided the present Bill had the precedence.


said, the subject was one which had been discussed on former occasions. Two Select Committees had sat; clauses such as were in the present Bill had passed their Lordships' House, and had only failed to pass the other House through want of time. For some time the diocese of Durham had been suffering grievously from the want of some measure of this kind, because while it remained in abeyance it interfered with the current of private benevolence. In order to prevent the evil from enduring for another year, the right rev. Prelate proposed that this Bill should be read a second time, so that if the larger measure now in the other House failed to come up to their Lordships they might proceed with this Bill. The noble Earl the President of the Council asked his right rev. Friend to postpone the Bill, which the right rev. Prelate was willing to do, upon the understanding that this Bill should be passed if the larger measure should fail. If the noble Earl would give an assurance that the Government would support this Bill in case the other did not come up to that House within a reasonable time, he would heartily concur in requesting the right rev. Prelate to postpone the second reading of this Bill.


observed that this was a most important measure, and for the first time it was proposed to make it imperative upon the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to apply the funds exclusively within the districts in which they were raised. The measure before the other House was permissive in this respect. It was decided in 1840 that a Common Fund should be formed, and that the wants of the poorer dioceses should be supplied from the riches of the wealthier dioceses. He strongly objected to the imperative principle contained in this measure.


said, as the noble Earl the President of the Council had failed to give any assurance in respect to the future treatment of this measure in the event of its being postponed, he (Lord Ravensworth) felt himself called, upon to submit a few observations for their Lordships' consideration. The noble Earl opposite (the Earl of Chichester) represented the Ecclesiastical Commission there, and appeared to entertain objections to this important Bill, on the ground that it made it imperative upon the Ecclesiastical Commission to give a preference to local claims in certain parts of the kingdom. Now, all that the supporters of the present Bill desired was that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners should no longer have the opportunity of making an apology or excuse for not attending to the wants of the local population. The principle of this Bill had been affirmed over and over again by both Houses, not simultaneously but on separate and respective occasions. The terms of the Bill which passed the House of Commons on the 6th April, 1840, were precisely in accordance with the provisions of the present measure. A clause provided that in each case the Commissioners should consider whether the funds raised within a particular diocese ought not to be applied in making exclusive provision for the spiritual wants of that diocese. He saw no reason for refusing to give this Bill a second reading. He did not object to the measure in the House of Commons, but it was one which dealt with a vast amount of property and with complicated interests, and it was doubtful whether it would pass in the present Session. No harm could be done by acceding to the present Bill until the fate of the measure in the other House was ascertained, and he hoped that by assenting to the second reading their Lordships would acknowledge the great principle, that those portions of the kingdom which contributed the largest share to the funds in the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners should have the first claim in the distribution of those funds.


understood that the Bill deprived the Ecclesiastical Commissioners of any discretion in this matter, and made it imperative on them to apply the funds derived from the dioceses of London and Durham in first supplying the wants of those districts. The effect of the measure thus would be that not a single sixpence derived from the sale of property in those two dioceses could be applied out of the Common Fund for the relief of destitute places in other parts of the country, at all events until every case of destitution in Durham and London had been first provided for.


said, his object was that in a given place, where there was a large population who were earning for the Ecclesiastical Commissioners revenues which now went into the Common Fund, the population there should have their spiritual wants first provided for before the money went into the Common Fund.


said, that was a principle to which Parliament had repeatedly refused its assent, declaring that the Common Fund should be applicable to the whole country at large. Seeing that a measure on this subject was now before the other House, he thought it would be a work of supererogation to proceed with the present Bill; which he hoped, therefore, would not be pressed.


said, that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners received £50,000 a year out of the diocese of Durham, while at the same time he believed that in no county were there more small livings than in Durham or a larger population. The population had enormously increased there, and it seemed but reasonable that the surplus funds derived from the diocese should be applied in providing for the local clergy. The present Bill made it imperative to provide for local wants; and in a diocese like that of Durham, where the local destitution was so great, the population so large, and the livings so small in point of income, it was not unfair that a part at least of the funds derived from the diocese should be applied in relief of its necessities. It was said that in point of practice the Ecclesiastical Commissioners did take the local claims into consideration. But, he was sorry to say, that was not so in his own district. He knew of a case in which application for aid for a population of 5,000 had been made and refused. He should give all the support in his power to the Bill.


said, that as connected by property with the diocese of Durham, he had been asked on a former occasion to give his support to this movement; but he felt incapable of doing so because the measure was a diocesan one, and one which he considered too extensive. But in the Bill before the House the measure was a parochial one, and did not assume so extensive a position. It was important that the question should be distinctly understood, and whether the claim was a parochial or a district claim. He thought there was a strong case in favour of a parochial claim; but beyond that he considered that the property of the Church was universal as regarded the whole kingdom, and he did not think that to property arising from one parish a neighbouring parish had any greater claim than a parish in any other part of the kingdom. The parish itself, however, had, in his opinion, a strong and distinct claim. As the Bill was drawn, the word "place" was inserted, and if by that were meant "diocese," he should object to it. If, on the other hand, the Bill was distinctly of a parochial character, and the demand was on the Commissioners for property in the parish itself, then he was prepared to support the Bill.


drew attention to a discrepancy between Clauses 1 and 2. The first had reference to properties vested in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and forming part of their property, and was an extension of the principle that was sanctioned by Parliament with regard to tithes. It was also a reaffirmation of the principle laid down in their Lordships' Committee, and embodied in a Bill now in the other House. In Clause 2 there was a very important enlargement and extension, and the property was to be the surplus revenue belonging to ecclesiastical corporations. He thought that the House should be careful not to allow such a nice distinction to exist, for he conceived that by the present measure an endeavour might be made to treat the surplus revenues of ecclesiastical corporations as property not so much belonging to the Common Fund as to the Commissioners. He was afraid, too, that if the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were tied up in the manner proposed the purposes for which the Common Fund was established would be imperilled. Properties would be considered of a local and special character, and the great objects for which the Commission was instituted would be to some extent overlooked. But it was not his intention to oppose the second reading of the Bill, although he thought it would require mature consideration in Committee.


thought the noble Duke had misapprehended the object and force of these two clauses. He should be as much indisposed as any of their Lordships to place any unnecessary restriction upon the Ecclesiastical Commissioners with the view of localizing the revenues arising from any particular diocese; but he did not think the Bill as it stood would have that effect. It only rendered it incumbent upon the Commissioners to give a fair and reasonable consideration to local claims. He hoped the Government would pledge themselves, in the event of the larger measure now before the other House being thrown out or unduly delayed, to take up the present Bill. If they agreed to do so, the second reading might be postponed. If not, he hoped the right rev. Prelate who had charge of the Bill would proceed to a division. If he did so, he should vote for it.


said, there was one great difference between the present Bill and that before the other House—namely, that while the latter was permissive this was imperative as to local claims. The main object of the Bill before the House of Commons was to augment the funds applicable to the whole of England, and he need not state that those funds must suffer if, as proposed by the present measure, favour were shown to particular districts. He was not prepared to give the pledge asked by the noble Earl opposite. The Bill before the other House having been read a second time, he had every reason to believe that it would pass successfully through the remaining stages, and eventually become law; but he did not see how Her Majesty's Government could make themselves answerable for carrying the Bill through the other House, or anticipate what might be the decision of that branch of the Legislature upon this or any Bill. Under these circumstances he trusted that their Lordships would not be forced to a division upon the second reading of the present Bill.


said, that it was desirable that there should be nothing to prejudice the discussion on the other Bill when it came up to their Lordships; and equally so that there should be no misunderstanding on the subject. As the noble Earl had alluded to the difference between this and the other Bill in respect that the one was permissive and the other imperative, in the recognition of local claims, he had to say that the right rev. Bench had been induced to promise their support to the Bill now before the House of Commons upon the distinct understanding that the permissive clause as to local claims should be made imperative. There was another point on which it was important there should be no misunderstanding. He agreed that, in the recognition of local claims, a diocesan division would be too extensive, but he did not think that a parochial division should be adopted. He was prepared to show that in many instances the Church possessed property in one parish, and there was great destitution in another parish in the same place, and he was of opinion that it was proper the destitute parish in the same place should receive due consideration before the funds were carried off to another part of the kingdom. There was some exaggeration as to local claims. It was not proposed to endow the parishes or places which had such claims largely. The utmost that would be done would be to give the clergyman the pittance of £300 a year. It would, therefore, be very unfortunate if it were supposed that the whole of the funds of the Ecclesiastical Commission would be dried up because those persons were given £300 a year out of the funds possessed by the Church in their own locality. It was very likely that the Bill in the other House would come to an untimely end, and he should deeply regret if the discontent already raised by the neglect of local claims should grow stronger and stronger. He felt assured that nothing alienated the people so much from the administration of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners as knowing that they were drawing large revenues from Church property in populous districts in which great spiritual destitution existed, but from which the poor population of the locality was not permitted to derive any benefit. He could not see the difference between tithes and other property in this matter. Where there was large property, and where there was great spiritual destitution, the majority of thoughtful men would concur in the opinion that the Commissioners ought to provide moderately, not exorbitantly, for those localities before the funds were carried off to distant parts of the kingdom.


entirely agreed that nothing caused so much discontent as the withdrawing of funds which ought to provide for the spiritual instruction and necessities of the district for the use of other districts. He did not think that the provisions of the Bill before their Lordships were compulsory. The parties charged with these duties were not compellable to act—they were only compellable well to consider the question, and to give aid in those cases where urgent necessity could be made out. It was not so much legislative compulsion as legislative sanction and suggestive of such a proceeding. With regard to the Bill now in the other House, he did not share the confident expectation that because it had been read a second time without a division it would therefore pass through all its stages and reach their Lordships' House. He had known in history—he would not say in very ancient history, but in times within the period of legal memory, times since the reign of Richard I., he would not say in whose reign—of a measure of no small importance and of great interest to the community which was read a second time without a division, and by some accident never proceeded a step further. He had looked in their Lordships' Votes and could find no trace of it, and he saw that it somehow or other dropped altogether out of the Votes elsewhere. He could not help thinking that the same fate might attend this measure, and therefore they would do well to be prepared for that event.


objected to "place," as an ambiguous term. It might mean a whole district, or the whole country of Durham. The rule ought to be to apply the revenue to the spiritual destitution of the particular parish whence it was derived, and any departure from that rule ought to be mentioned by clear and definite words, such as "or in special cases to an adjoining parish."


said, it was very difficult to find a more definite word. If they used the word "parish" it might lead to great injustice, for a mine might be opened on the borders of one parish and the people working it might live in the neighbouring one. The word "place" had been adopted after much consideration.


was understood to ask the most rev. Prelate to postpone the Committee on the Bill for a short time to see what progress was made with the Bill in the other House.


had no objection to the postponement of the Committee.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read 2a accordingly.