HL Deb 05 February 1864 vol 173 cc160-9

said, he rose to move for copies of two Reports of Committees of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. In bringing forward that Motion he had no intention of addressing their Lordships in defence of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, or of deprecating any criticism which that House might choose to pass, or which might be passed elsewhere on their proceedings. His object was simply to remove from the minds of their Lordships an impression, which appeared to prevail elsewhere, that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were a body who were receiving much and doing little, and that in fact they were ineffective and supine as to the attainment of the objects for which they had been appointed. If the papers for which he was about to ask were granted, he was sure they would receive the attention which, to his mind, they deserved from every thinking man in the community. It was common to speak of the Ecclesiastical Commission as if its sole business was to provide for the spiritual destitution of large towns. But he did not so understand its functions. Before the year 1835 the clergy were mainly divided into pluralists and curates, one clergyman perhaps having five livings, while another had to perform three, four, or even five services in the day. In the diocese of Norwich there were three brothers, who were responsible for the services in fifteen churches. On the other hand, he had heard of a case in which the incumbent had never been seen in the parish—he would not say within the memory of man, but within the records of the parish register. Pluralities were abolished, and the consequence was that a large number of benefices were created on which it was impossible for a clergyman to live. The business of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners had been first to redistribute the Ecclesiastical revenues and meet the exigencies created by the Pluralities Act, and secondly to supply the spiritual wants of an increasing population. If they took £300 a year as the common minimum endowment to be granted for parishes having a population of 500 souls, it had been calculated that to raise all the benefices in public patronage throughout the United Kingdom to that rate, and to provide one-half the funds necessary for securing the same object as to benefices in private patronage, the amount required would be about £15,000,000—certainly not less. Now, in 1850, the sum of £80,000 a year became available towards the augmentation of the various livings which had claims on the Commission. From 1850 to 1857 the charges were in excess of the income of the year. In 1857, however, the tide turned. For the first time the sum of £5,000 was found to be available, and was appropriated in grants for the benefit of livings. In 1862 the excess of income over charges had increased to £100,000. To sum up the whole of the operations of the Commission to the present time, £426,000 had been granted to meet benefactions, and £40,000 a year in perpetuity to meet local claims and towards raising to £300 a year the endowments of benefices in the public gift, the population of which amounted to 10,000 souls. The total result was that £5,500,000 out of the £15,000,000 had been provided up to 1863—£4,500,000 from the common fund, and £1,000,000 by the liberality of the public. One of the papers for which he moved contained a prospective view of the operations of the Commission for the next five years. It was there calculated that within that time the Commissioners would be able to raise to £300 the endowments of all benefices in public patronage with 4,000 inhabitants, to provide half the amount necessary for the augmentation to the same amount of all benefices in private patronage, and also to appropriate towards the endowment of new districts £15,000 a year, being at the rate of £3,000 a year, and giving to each of such new districts £200 a year. During the year to come the Commissioners would give £100,000 to meet benefactions of equal value. They would also meet several local claims which had been thrown upon them by the Act of 1860; and they would augment to £300 a year the incomes of benefices in public patronage with 8,000 people. At the end of five years the whole of these operations would be carried out by providing from all sources no less than £10,000,000. Dull as these statements were, they were entitled to the careful consideration of their Lordships. The measures he alluded to would meet a very serious want. Let the kinds of cases that were dealt with be considered. In one, a young man of education, thrown into a district where there had never been a resident clergyman, where there had been no spiritual cultivation, was obliged, in addition to his other difficulties, to live with his wife and family in a labourer's cottage; the Commissioners would be able to provide him a house. In another, an incumbent in one of our large towns is struggling to keep up a decent appearance upon an income which some of their Lordships would hardly think of offering to an upper servant; the Commission would provide him an income of £300 a year. In many such cases clergymen were waiting with anxiety for the time when the operations of the Commission would reach them, and on every ground it was impossible not to watch for the result of these operations with great interest, and before pronouncing a decision on the proceedings of the Ecclesiastical Commission. In conclusion he would beg leave to move for Copies of Two Reports of Committees of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.


said, that the most rev. Prelate had spoken on a subject which was unquestionably of considerable importance, but as to which it was notorious that a great amount of dissatisfaction prevailed out of doors. The most rev. Prelate had alluded to the conditions and circumstances in which the assistance of the Ecclesiastical Commission had been extended to the improvement of small benefices; but he had omitted altogether to direct their Lordships' attention to the most material item in the expenditure of the Commission—an item which, above all others, had excited dissatisfaction and distrust throughout the country, and which had been specially referred to and unequivocably condemned in the Report of the Committee of the House of Commons which sat last Session—he meant the enormous outlay on the management of the Commission itself. He should like to know whether the Government intended to carry out the recommendations of the Committee to which he referred. The charges for the management of these vast estates required much explanation, amounting as they did, to not less than £50,000 per annum; and the question arose whether the Commission as it was then constituted was a fit body to be intrusted with the management of such a vast amount of property, and whether it would not be wise to economise the property of the Church by some other arrangement. There was another point to which he wished to refer, as it was one on which loud complaints were made. He had always held that particular attention should be paid to local claims; and he believed that the Commissioners had not made sufficient allowance for the demands which had been made upon them in those cases. He admitted that very considerable amelioration had taken place under the Commission, but the whole subject would have to be considered by the Government, who would have to decide whether they would support the present system with all its charges and expenditure, or whether they would propose some new arrangement, such as that which had been suggested by the Committee of the House of Commons, of substituting various local ecclesiastical bodies for one central body.


said, he was not at all sorry that his noble Friend had touched upon the subject of the expenses of management, as he could assure the noble Earl that the items for expenses of management, equally with the operations of the Commission, would well challenge investigation and bear explanation. Much had been said about the expenses of the establishment at "Whitehall, but it must be borne in mind that there were three branches of expense. There were the expenses properly belonging to the establishment; there were the expenses attaching to the management of the estates in hand; and there were also the expenses attaching to transactions which were merely temporary, and which would cease when the tenure of estates for leases for terms of years or for lives was changed into a system of leases at rackrent. The expenses of the establishment at Whitehall had already undergone a rigorous investigation by three gentlemen appointed by the Treasury, and the result of their inquiry was to show that quite as much work was done in the office of the Commission for the money as in any Government office. The expenses of transactions tending to change the tenure of estates and to give lessees the option of purchasing were necessarily great, as the Commission had to deal with property amounting to £30,000,000 sterling; but the charges under this head, involving the purchase of the interest of the lessees, of some portions of Church property, and the sale of the interest of the Church to the lessees in other portions of that property, was not above 30s. per cent, including the cost of stamps, a rate much more moderate than was usual in legal expenditure on transactions of a similar character. If, then, the expenses of the Commission were fairly divided into the three heads of which ho had spoken, and if it could be shown that the cost of the management of the estates in possession of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners has not exceeded that incurred by any of their Lordships, he did not think the complaints which had been made of the Commissioners could be justified by facts, and he had no doubt that an inquiry into the subject, for which every opportunity would be given, would tend to satisfy the public mind upon that point.


said, he thought that the amount of expenses for the management of the Commission required careful inquiry; that it was easy for plausible lawyers, if not closely controlled, to run the Commission to great expense in dealing with and exchanging property. There was also a want of financial intelligence in the mode in which they dealt with their funds. It was natural to look with some suspicion upon the system of charging capital with a large proportion of the legal expense connected with the purchase of estates. The question would have to be considered, whether the Commissioners were justified in distributing the surplus of their funds in annual grants, and preventing that surplus from reproducing itself, as it would do every thirty-three years, if invested by way of capital; and also the soundness, in a commercial point of view, of transactions such as buying out lessees instead of investing surplus capital and allowing leases to expire.


said, he should much regret if the impression went abroad that the right rev. Bench were responsible for the mode of conducting the financial arrangements of the Commission. The ecclesiastical Members of the Commission, like many of the official Members, were, in matters of finance, quite in the hands of what was called the Estates Committee, which his noble Friend (the Earl of Chichester) represented. Therefore, he did not think they could be held responsible for any of the intricate transactions which had been alluded to. The Commission were desirous of inquiry, and when the matter came to be sifted, he had no doubt that the Estates Committee would be found to have discharged their duties with great wisdom; and although the Commissioners were for the moment somewhat unpopular, yet, as they grew richer, they would become more popular, and by being able to increase their grants, would conciliate the opinion of the public. The whole work of the Commission in matters such as they were discussing that night, was transacted by the noble Earl (the Earl of Chichester), the noble Viscount he saw on the other side of the House, two right hon. Members of the House of Commons, and one Bishop, who assisted them from time to time. The other episcopal Members of the Commission were all prepared to take their due share of responsibility, but it was a mistake to suppose that, with the many other demands on their time, they could enter with great minuteness into such questions. No doubt there was a considerable degree of unpopularity attaching to the Ecclesiastical Commission. As they all knew, a Committee of the House of Commons had reported somewhat adversely on the subject; but that it was not specially the ecclesiastical members of that body on whom the Committee had reflected might be gathered from this, that one of their recommendations was to -transfer the business of the Commission to the Bounty Board, which chiefly consisted of ecclesiastical members. He hoped the noble Earl would explain to the House exactly the principles on which they proceeded. The Committee of the Ecclesiastical Commission had not yet reported on office expenses, but as soon as they had reported, his most rev. Brother would, no doubt, be as ready to call for that Report as for any other. For himself and his right rev. Brethren, he might say there was nothing they were more anxious for than that there should be a thorough investigation of all the expenses of the Commission, and, if they were too much, let them be reduced. The business of the body of the ecclesiastical Members of the Commission was to attend certain meetings of the Board, when great principles, not generally referring to finance, were introduced, and to these they gave their sanction. One of these matters was, how far they should raise the small livings which at present existed, or promote endowments for new districts now being formed throughout the country. Of course, in a large Board different members would have different opinions; but for himself he was inclined to consider that in the Report now called for rather too much was given to existing parishes, as compared with new parishes, which he hoped to call into existence to meet the growing population. His own diocese was increasing very rapidly every year, and his desire, above all things, was to increase the means of grace as the population increased. But the proportions in which these various objects ought to be attended to, fell very properly under the attention of the episcopal Members of the Board. Financial matters were left generally in abler and more appropriate hands. He hoped the question of the expenses would be carefully attended to, and that before long a Report would be laid on the table, showing exactly how much was spent in the office, and how much that expense might by possibility be reduced. He was bound to say, so far as his own diocese was concerned, that he was greatly indebted to the Commission for the way in which it had given effect to those clauses of the Act which had been passed three years before, whereby local claims were attended to.


was understood to say—The right rev. Prelate who had last spoken seemed to him to underrate the services of himself and the Episcopal Members of the Commission. He himself was quite prepared to admit, that the main responsibility of administration devolved upon the Estates Committee; and in re- spect to the Estates, the whole management was with that body, and with them only. But his right rev. Friend had evidently forgotten a recent and remarkable instance of the valuable services sometimes rendered to the Commission by individual members of the right rev. bench. The most rev. Prelate who had just moved for certain papers—one of which was a Report on the Financial State of the Commission—was himself the author and the chairman of the Committee who made that Report, and took a prominent and most useful part in the inquiries upon which the Report was based. The noble Baron opposite (Lord Ravensworth), was under the impression that the Report of the Committee of the House of Commons which sat last Session, condemned in general terms the constitution and administration of the Ecclesiastical Commission, and especially the heavy expenses incurred in management. There was no doubt that if the Report were read alone, it would convey that impression, but the charge was nowhere borne out by the evidence. Indeed, so far as he was aware, there was no evidence to prove that the Ecclesiastical Commission was managed otherwise than economically. Very little evidence at all had been given on the subject, except that furnished by the Officers of the Commission themselves. The Estates Committee had felt it their duty to commence a searching inquiry into the expenses of management, and the Report would be an answer to the observations of the noble Lord opposite. He was bound to say, for his own part, having given close attention to the subject, that he thought the expenditure extremely moderate considering the work done, and that economy was as strictly observed as in any other public department. With reference to the complaints made by the noble Baron, as to the inadequacy of endowments given in respect of local claims, he might add that the Commissioners had a rule which they invariably followed, supposing the property they possessed permitted of it. Where the population amounted to 500 souls the living was raised to £300 a year, and where the population was below 500 and exceeded 300, the living was raised to £250. In addition, funds were voted to the erection of parsonage houses.


said, he believed that the evil report generally prevalent in regard to the Ecclesiastical Commission arose from the false expecta- tions which had been originally formed of the effect of its appointment. The Government which established the Commission entertained expectations from it which never could be realized, and the country had gone on ever since cherishing the idea that there was a gold mine to be worked. With regard to the expenses of the Commission, he might remark that their Lordships were not aware of the complicated nature of the titles to the property in the hands of the Commissioners, by which the expenses in dealing with it were considerably enhanced; still those expenses once incurred would not have to be paid again. In his opinion the ecclesiastical resources of the country were utterly inadequate for the remuneration of the clergy of this country, as they ought to be paid, and in a manner which would be for the good of the laity. He must express his firm conviction that unless those persons who were possessed of landed property would exercise their liberality in the way in which certain distinguished members of their body had already done, no very great good could be effected. If everybody possessed of landed property would act as liberally in regard to the church as the noble Earl opposite who resided in his diocese (the Earl of Powis) had done, the work would be well carried out, but without such assistance the work for the improvement of the church would never be effected in a way in which it ought to be.


was understood to say that he rose to answer a question which had been put to him as to the course which the Government intended to follow. His noble Friend behind him had partially answered that question. He might add that many of the recommendations of the Committee were of an. administrative character requiring administrative sanction. On the other recommendations, the Government had not yet come to any positive decision.


said, he wished to ask his noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack, what had been done under the act of last Session for the sale of small livings.


said, that accurate information would be laid on the table in the course of a few days as to the number and the terms of the sales which had been effected; but, speaking from memory, he might state that he had been fortunate enough to dispose of nearly forty livings. He regretted, however, that in consequence of some defect in the measure as it passed, he had been unable to sell any of the very small livings which most required augmentation—namely, those not exceeding £150 a year. That arose to some extent from his having failed to obtain that additional assistance from a source to which he thought he had a right to look for it. He was happy to add that the prices secured for the livings which had been disposed of surpassed his most sanguine expectations. For that result he was much indebted to the noble Earl below him (the Earl of Derby), who had taken so great and so solicitous an interest in the measure when before their Lordships' House in the last year. By the omission at the noble Earl's desire of a portion of the Bill—namely, the scale of prices which was inserted in the schedule, he had been left more unfettered than he otherwise should have been. At the same time, the prices had almost realized the highest scale. Some time necessarily elapsed before the mode of selling, if sale it could be called, was appreciated; but since it had been better understood, he had received a great number of offers, and he believed that in addition to the thirty-five or forty livings already disposed of there were twenty or thirty more sales in progress. With regard to the raising of funds for the augmentation of the very small livings, it might be necessary to come to Parliament for a new Act in order to facilitate the successful working of the measure in that respect.

Motion agreed to.