HL Deb 04 July 1870 vol 202 cc1336-42

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that its object was chiefly directed to prevent the sale of the next presentations to benefices, and in certain cases to render illegal the sale of advowsons. He did not conceal that the Bill did, to a certain extent, interfere with the rights of property—it did not, however, interfere with the property of advowsons, but only with the right of property—if any such could be said to exist—in reference to the sale of next presentations. He thought that they ought to look at the matter in the interests of the Church, and see how far the property had been used in accordance with those interests. It was important to bear in mind the distinction between an advowson and a next presentation. The former had always been considered property. In Stevens's Digest of the Laws of the Church, Lord Chief Justice De Grey's dictum was quoted to this effect—that there was the right to sell an advowson; but the exercise of the right of presentation was a public trust, and should not be exercised for private benefit or profit. Advowsons had also been declared by a statute of the first year of Her present Majesty to be real property, and therefore it would have been a serious interference with the rights of property to prevent the sale of advowsons. But the system had been, undoubtedly, attended by considerable abuses. Livings were advertised for sale in the most open and barefaced manner, and the age of the incumbent was stated as an element affecting the value. He did not say that they could at once provide a remedy for all abuses that were said to exist in the Church. Property would always be liable to abuse; but that was no reason why they should not attempt to remedy some portion of the abuses that existed. Now the right of presentation, though a species of property somewhat similar to advowsons, stood in a different position. He maintained that the result of patronage being invested in lay hands was very beneficial, because it was instrumental in introducing into the Church a variety of sentiment, character, and opinion which might otherwise not be found in it. It was, therefore, desirable to maintain this kind of property; but still that right should be restrained if it were exercised in a manner injurious to the Church. He asked their Lordships shortly to consider some of the evils that the sale of next presentations was exposed to. The law, as it now stood, forbad the sale of the next presentation where the living was vacant, but not where it was full; and ecclesiastics were forbidden to purchase next presentations. It was difficult to understand the principle of this law—why the law should prohibit the sale of the next presentation in the case of vacant benefices, and permit it if they were full, or why clergymen should be debarred from purchasing them, while laymen were permitted to do so. The only argument in favour of the existing practice was, that it afforded an opening for persons who desired to enter the Church, but who, for lack of interest, would otherwise be enabled to do so. But he thought this argument did not deserve much consideration. The sale of a next presentation amounted to this—that the patron became possessed of the fruits of the benefice. He could not, indeed, present himself; but he took a valuable consideration for the period during which the person to be presented was expected to enjoy it, and, therefore, pro tanto, he got the fruits of the living. On the other hand, it was impossible that a clergyman who had obtained a benefice by means of money should stand in the same relation to his parishioners as one who had been presented from no pecuniary considerations. Such a man, unless his motives were of the highest character, would regard the income of the benefice simply as a return for the money invested in the purchase. The moral obligation of consulting the interests of the parishioners and of selecting the fittest man was becoming, he was happy to say, far more generally felt by patrons; but no such element could enter into the sale of a presentation, which was a transaction entirely of bargain and sale; and when a person bought a next presentation, it could hardly be said that his object was to present the most fit person to the living. The oath, too, that the clergyman took upon induction seemed to his mind to be one of the greatest obstacles to the practice of purchasing next presentations. The oath was that no sum of money, reward, profit, or benefit, had passed between himself and the patron.


said, that now it was not an oath, but a declaration.


But a declaration was as binding in foro conscientœ as an oath. It was idle to say that the bargain had been made with a third person, and that qui facit per caliam facit per se did not apply. The exercise of public and of private patronage also was surely a trust, and the public mind was becoming more sensitive as to the exercise of trusts. This was shown by the way in which abuses in reference to the electoral franchise, or to the selling of public offices, were viewed. The Bill dealt with three matters. In the first place, it prohibited the grant or demise, or the agreement to do so, of the next or other presentation or nomination; secondly, it prohibited the sale of an advowson under a colourable pretence, when the intention was that it should be handed back again after the person should have been in ducted; and, thirdly, it prohibited the sale of an advowson when the incumbent was in articulo mortis. He might add that the Bill was provided with various safeguards in reference to interference with existing rights; it saved settlements, and also next presentations that had already been purchased. It would simply remedy what was acknowledged on all hands to be a gross abuse in reference to the property of the Church, and also a violation of a public trust. He trusted that their Lordships, by passing this measure, small as it was, would confer a great and lasting benefit on the Church.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a"—(The Duke of Marlborough.)


said, that last year, during the discussion of a Bill having a different object, he urged the propriety of repealing the disqualification resting on Roman Catholics of exercising ecclesiastical patronage. Owing to the lateness of the Session and the opposition of the Primate, he did not then press the matter; but if the right of selling the next presentation were taken away the property of Roman Catholic patrons would be altogether forfeited. Any other persons, though Jews, Turks, or infidels, had a right to present to a living, and as the presentee must be approved by the Bishop, there could be no danger to the Church of England in permitting Roman Catholic patrons to nominate to livings. He hoped a clause to this effect would, for the sake of justice, be inserted in the Bill.


said, he had reserved his opinion of the measure until he heard the arguments in its behalf; but though he had listened with great interest to the speech of his noble Friend, he must confess that the doubts he had all along entertained had by no means been removed. He must be permitted to say that his noble Friend's measure seemed to him to be a very strong one. His noble Friend had pointed out the difference between an advowson and a next presentation; that advowsons were well-known tangible, and valuable property, and he said that he had no desire to interfere with the rights of property with regard to them. If ever the time should arrive when, by proper means and without violating the rights of property, the whole system of selling advowsons and next presentations could be done away with, no one would rejoice more than himself; but before their Lordships assented to the second reading of the Bill, they should be clear as to the difference between an advowson and a next presentation. The most valuable part of an advowson was the next presentation, and if they cut off the most valuable part, and then said that they were not interfering with property, it would be the same as if they cut off three-fourths of a loaf and took it away, and then said that they were not interfering with the rights of property in the loaf. By this Bill they would, beyond all doubt, interfere with the property in advowsons, and, therefore, although he was loth to interfere with the second reading, he thought their Lordships should give a little more consideration to the matter before they sanctioned the principle of the Bill.


said, he rejoiced that so much of the patronage of the Church was vested in lay hands, for sooner or later a man was likely to get preferment from one source or another. He looked, however, on the possession of an advowson as rather an ornament to property than property itself; and though an advowson was necessarily liable to be sold, it did not follow that the sale of next presentations should be permitted. The latter, indeed, produced an amount of ill feeling in parishes which was beyond description. The more the thing was reflected upon the more profound was the dissatisfaction at a clergyman being intrusted with the charge of 1,000 or 5,000 souls not on account of any special fitness or piety, but because he had gone into the market and bought the property. He admitted that there was great difficulty in applying a remedy to this; but he strongly-approved the principle of the Bill, as it left intact the right of the laity to present, and prevented presentations from being bought and sold.


said, that a more difficult Bill had rarely come before their Lordships' House. As to the grounds of approval suggested by the most rev. Prelate, however much they might sympathize with them, they must remember that the principle which had been laid down could hardly be confined to the Church. Commissions were bought in the Army, and, though the purchase system would very likely some day be abolished, the most extreme reformers had not proposed to forfeit the property of those who had bought commissions by refusing to allow them to sell them again. Yet something like this, though not exactly the same, was proposed by the Bill as regarded the powers of next presentations. He did not say that the position of those who purchased Church preferments for speculative purposes was morally very high; but the Bill would take away from them money which they had invested in a manner authorized by the law, and which property they had every reason to expect would be respected.


held it very desirable to remove the scandal attending the sale of presentations, where the age of the present possessor was often a prominent feature in the transaction; but he thought it difficult to draw a distinction between advowsons and next presentations. The existence of patronage in lay hands was one of the greatest safeguards of the Church, into which various opinions thus found entrance much more easily than would be the case were all presentations in the hands of a public body or of the right rev. Bench. The Bill might hinder the admission into the Church of gentlemen of independent means, whose fathers now purchased livings for them. There were, however, so many questions connected with the subject that he hoped the House would not be called upon to pronounce a definite judgment on the measure.


believed the Bill would go far to remove some great abuses. It respected existing rights and only dealt with the future. But though the Bill would remedy some admitted abuses, he thought the general wish was that the subject should be postponed.


wished to know whether under the Bill the sale of an advowson would carry with it the next presentation? If it would, the only effect would be that, instead of the presentation being sold, the advowson itself would be sold. If it would not, the Bill was simply taking away property. A next presentation was usually bought for the purpose of putting in as young a man as could be found, and the value of the advowson when the next presentation was deducted was merely nominal.


hoped their Lordships would at once agree to the second reading, and thus sanction the principle of the measure; but he should be happy to consider Amendments in Committee. At present it was illegal to sell the presentation if the benefice were void, and his object was to prevent the sale of the next presentation. As to the noble and learned Lord's question, he understood the Bill to prohibit the sale of a next presentation; and if this was taking away three-fourths of a loaf, so that the remainder was worth little or nothing, all he could say was that he was sorry for it. Still he desired their Lordships to sanction the principle of the Bill, for he believed it would further the best interests of the Church. Although he would be the last to interfere with the rights of property, except upon most sufficient grounds, he insisted that the sale of presentations had become such a disgrace to the Church that the adoption of some such measure as that before their Lordships had become necessary.


said, he would gladly assent to the second reading of the Bill, but he must not be taken by so doing to give his assent to the Bill in its present shape. He thought it would require considerable alteration in Committee.


pointed out that, although the sale of an advowson carried with it the next presentation, it must not be considered as a sale of the next presentation, because the transfer of the presentation was a natural consequence of the transfer of the advowson, and could not be compared with carrying a presentation into the market and offering it for sale. It was the common traffic in presentations that it was desired to put an end to.


said, that when he was a Member of the other House he had prepared a measure on the subject, so that he was aware of the gravity of the evil to be dealt with; but if the Bill were read a second time he hoped the noble Duke would postpone the Committee.


assented, and remarked that he was not responsible for the title of the Bill.

On Question? agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday the 12th instant.