HL Deb 27 March 1863 vol 170 cc6-11

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.


said, that not having been present when the subject was brought forward on the previous evening, he desired now to express his most hearty concurrence-in the proposal of the Lord Chancellor.


said, he could not allow that opportunity to pass without expressing the great importance which, the right rev. Prelates attached to the Bill now before their Lordships. On the point of affirming the principle of the Bill no discussion was likely to take place, and therefore he would detain their Lordships but a few moments. The Bill appeared to him the more important that it was, as far as he knew, the first piece of ecclesiastical legislation submitted to the House by any Government for the last six years and a half, with the exception of the measure to continue the Ecclesiastical Commission. He must be allowed to say that they did not on that account feel less grateful to the noble and learned Lord for having taken up this question of the augmentation of small benefices in so practical a spirit. The difficulty to be contended with in dealing with such a question arose mainly from the necessity of adjusting the new state of things to arrangements, many of which belonged to old times. Many attempts had been made, during the last six years, to introduce alterations in reference to our ecclesiastical system, but all these attempts had failed, because they had been unable to secure the assistance of the Government The consequence was that noble Lords who had brought measures before their Lordships had nut been able to carry them, for want of such assistance. A noble Lord (Lord Lyttelton) a short time ago brought in a measure in reference to the increase of the episcopate, and a noble Duke (the Duke of Marlborough), who was then present, had endeavoured to settle the very difficult question of church, rates; but so long as such matters were left to individual effort, the right rev. Bench were persuaded that it was impossible that: any satisfactory conclusion could be arrived at in reference to those ecclesiastical improvements which they wished to have effected. There had been continued complaints against the right rev. Bench for not having themselves undertaken and carried the ecclesiastical alterations which were much required; but he was convinced that the right rev. Bench had exercised a wise discretion in not putting themselves forward as champions of this or that particular scheme of amendment, unless they were satisfied that they would receive some strong support from those, both in that and the other House of Parliament, who were in a position to enable them to carry their measures to a successful issue. The proposal of the noble and learned Lord had this recommendation, that it was of a thoroughly practical nature. The noble and learned Lord complained yesterday, with great force, of the difficulty which existed in securing the services of properly-educated persons for the ministry throughout the country; and he naturally pointed to the existence of so many small benefices as one of the causes of this difficulty. Now, it so happened that the Church, in reference to this matter, notwithstanding the important changes which had been introduced in the course of the last twenty years into our ecclesiastical system, was perhaps in a worse case than at the beginning of those reforms. Under the old state of things these small benefices were held in plurality, and therefore it was possible to make a living out of them; but now, by wise legislation, the system of pluralities had come to an end, and this very improvement had caused fresh difficulties. Some of their Lordships might, perhaps, remember what the number of small benefices throughout the country was. The only Return which he had been able to obtain was printed in 1835, at the beginning of the great changes to which he had referred; and from that Return it appeared that there were 297 benefices under £50 per annum, 1,629 between £50 and £100, 1,602 between £100 and £150, and there were nearly 7,000 benefices (in all) below £300 a year. The changes which had been since introduced had established a machinery for raising the income of these small benefices; and it was only due to those who had the management of the affairs of the Commission to take this opportunity of saying, that they had spared no means to accomplish the result they had in view. One part of their work was to suppress sinecures, and from that source a considerable fund had been raised. Another duty of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners was to increase the value of the property of the Church by altering its tenure. Now, when he looked at the Report of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, he saw that, not with standing all their labours, all they had been able to add to the property of the Church was not more than £1,200,000; and if that sum were divided among 7,000 benefices, it would only produce, on an average, an increase of £8 a year at the most. Taking, therefore, into consideration the great number of new poor benefices created by the Commission, their Lordships would see, that whatever was the situation of affairs in 1835, and however great had been their efforts at improvement, the Commissioners had not as yet been able to produce any very great result; and therefore they were still in the position of having an immense number of benefices which were quite inadequate for the support of their incumbents, and the difficulty of finding incumbents had been increased by the very reforms which had been introduced. He must say that the plan of the noble and learned Lord seemed to be the best plan of the kind which had yet fallen into his hands. The plan which had been proposed by the Commission, over which he believed Lord Harrow by presided, was, by the sale of benefices, to create a general fund, out of which 600 new churches might be built in the country. Now, that would have been a desirable result; but the great objection was to the multiplication of very poor benefices, which would entail serious evils. The noble and learned Lord, however, had confined his attention to one point—that of increasing the value of a certain number of the existing poor livings, and putting our existing system into a good state so far as his means went. In his opinion, the plan of the noble and learned Lord might be well applied to all benefices held in public patronage; and when they were about to assent to the principle of the Bill, it was not unimportant that they should remember that that principle would apply to a great many other cases besides that of the small benefices in the patronage of the Lord Chancellor. It was extremely important that all public patrons—such for example as the Deans and Chapters and other public bodies, to say nothing of the Bishops—if not able adequately to discharge the trust imposed upon them, should be able to dispose of that trust in order to improve the livings. Patronage, it must be borne in mind, was not held for the benefit of a private individual, still less as a mere appendage to the position of any dignitary; but it was a sacred trust for the benefit of the parishioners. If, therefore, the principle of the noble and learned Lord's proposal were carried further, great benefit to our ecclesiastical system might accrue. The reform which was needed in the matter of small benefices never could be perfected unless the Government determined to aid a scheme of improvement, such as that proposed by the noble and learned Lord.


said, their Lordships could hardly overrate the difficulty which the Bill was intended to remove. It was no reproach to any former Lord Chancellor to say that he had not well discharged the duties which the church patronage attached to the office imposed upon him, for they were duties which it was almost impossible for him to discharge well. The number of small benefices in his gift was 720, and it was estimated that on the average, in addition to other arduous duties, the Lord Chancellor had to find and place a fit clergyman in a parish once in every ten days. He was sure that every Member of the episcopal bench would find it difficult to appoint a fit revising barrister once in every ten days. This measure was a step in the right direction, for it was a step towards the better endowment of that most valuable and respectable class the working clergy; and it would remove a burden which the Lord Chancellor must severely feel. Some of the details of the Bill would require consideration—in particular, the estimated value of the presentations was much too high—and he recommended the Select Committee to whom it, would be referred to see whether it would not be desirable to revise the scale altogether, and to bring the amounts down to the bare market price of the livings. The great reason for his addressing their Lordships was to express his thanks to the Lord Chancellor for having endeavoured to solve this problem, and he believed that the noble and learned Lord had insured the gratitude of every clergyman, who recognised in this attempt at legislation the effort of a friendly hand.


said, that if the principle of the Bill was merely the sale of small livings, and the application of the purchase money to their augmentation, he had no hesitation in expressing his imme- diate assent to it. But he had only seen the Bill that day, and had had no opportunity of reading it, before being thus called upon to express an opinion upon its principle. If it was important that the Bill should be read a second time to-night instead of on the first night after the recess, he would put no obstacle in the way, as long as it was understood that he reserved to himself the right to criticise its provisions when it came from the Select Committee.


said, that if he had anticipated any discussion, he should hardly have thought it fair to have brought forward the second reading of the Bill so soon after its introduction. He had not himself been perfectly satisfied as to the details of the plan at the time he submitted it to their Lordships; and he had now listened very attentively to the criticisms of those details by the right rev. Prelates; and he hoped to see a great many more in the public prints. All that their Lordships were now asked to do was to consent to the principle that the presentation to certain livings should be sold, and the purchase money applied in the beat possible manner for the augmentation of small benefices. With regard to the market value estimated in the Bill, an eminent actuary whom he had consulted on the subject, though at first he expressed an opinion that the value taken was too high, after two days' consideration came to the conclusion that the terms were so advantageous that there could be no difficulty in obtaining the price calculated upon, and, indeed, that a higher estimate might have been prudently taken. Having derived confidence from that, he had adhered to his tables, merely, however, intending to submit them as a matter for their Lordships' discretion. He asked their Lordships to assent to the general principle of the Bill, the great object of which was to enable the advowsons of livings now in the hand of the Lord Chancellor to be transferred into the hands of the landed proprietors, who would be likely to take an interest in them. If the Bill was allowed to be read a second time, he would give notice of the names of the Peers who would form the Select Committee, and they could be nominated after Easter. His great object was to bring these advowsons into the hands of the landed proprietors, and he had consequently fixed the price at what might be considered a fancy price. He should now ask their Lordships to give their consent to the second reading of the Bill; and if they acceded to his proposition, he should move that the measure be referred to a Select Committee. He would ask their Lordships to commit themselves to nothing but to the expediency of the general principle of the measure.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly and referred to a Select Committee.

And on Tuesday, April 14, the Lords following were named of the Committee:—

L. Abp. Canterbury. E. Powis.
Ld. Chancellor, E. Ducie.
L. Abp. York. V. Eversley.
Ld. President, L. Bp. London,
D. Somerset. L. Bp. Oxford.
D. Marlborough, L. Wodehouse.
E. Steward, E. Carnarvon.
E. Derby. L. St. Leonards.
E. Shaftesbury. L. Ebury.
E. Stanhope. L. Chelmsford.
L. Cranworth. L. Kings down.
E. Chichester.