HL Deb 21 February 1871 vol 204 cc557-61

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


said, he would not have troubled the House with any observations on this Bill, but for some remarks made by a noble and learned Lord (Lord Romilly) last night, calculated to produce an impression which it was very desirable to remove. The noble and learned Lord complained of the haste with which this measure and two other Bills were hurried through the House last Session, and apprehended great peril to the Church and to the Episcopal element in the House from their being so hastily dealt with. He (the Archbishop of York), however, wished to remark that the subject had been long under public attention. As long ago as 1862, a Bill on this subject was introduced into their Lordships' House at the instance of the Convocation of Canterbury, and was referred to a Select Committee, composed of eminent Members of that House, including Lord St. Leonards. On review of the labours of the Session, the Committee thought it was too late then to proceed with the Bill, and they recommended that it should be printed with a view to excite the attention of those concerned, in the hope of legislation in the following year. Their able Report, however, for reasons unknown to him, remained on the shelves of the Library till 1868, when he (the Archbishop of York) introduced, late in the Session, a Bill prepared by a Committee of Convocation, substantially the same as the present. In 1869, he re-introduced it; but, after passing through the stage of Committee, it was withdrawn; and last year he brought it in precisely the same as the present, which passed through all its stages in their Lordships' House, was sent down to the Commons, was there read the second time on the 19th July, but was withdrawn on the 25th on account of the lateness of the Session. He was therefore surprised to hear it said this matter had been dealt with hastily and inconsiderately. This was not a Bishop's Bill. Prepared by the Lower Houses of Convocation of both Provinces, the Bill emanated from the clergy themselves, and was not a measure which the Bishops sought to impose on them. It introduced, moreover, no novelty in point of law, for the theory at present was, that every clergyman dwelling in a house which was his freehold was bound to leave it to his successor in as good a condition as that in which he received it. This principle it was not proposed to change—the mode of assessing the waste which had occurred between one incumbency and another would be retained; but it would be made more equal, certain, and complete. The chief object which this Bill sought to secure was to obtain as surveyors men eminent in their profession, acting on settled rules, and deciding in an uniform manner. The Select Committee had proposed that they should be appointed by the Bishops; but this was open to objection, and the clergy, being most deeply concerned in the matter, might reasonably claim a voice in it. Election by the whole body of the clergy would lead to canvassing and agitation, and it was thought best to entrust the election to the archdeacons and rural deans, subject to the approval of the Bishop, who, on complaint, would have power to remove the surveyor. If any plan, however, could be suggested more likely to secure the confidence of the clergy, he was not prepared to say that it would not be accepted. The surveyor would act whenever a benefice was sequestrated—for the person who took the profits of the living out of the hands of the clergyman was clearly bound to keep the parsonage in repair — and whenever a benefice was vacant, at which time nobody's rights could be said to be infringed by his having the house put in sufficient repair. Clause 12—which he admitted was, to some extent, an alteration of the existing law, and would probably, therefore, evoke most objection—gave the Bishop no right to interfere in the first instance, but enabled him, on the requisition in writing of the archdeacon, rural dean, or patron, to order a survey. It was surely but right that the patron should be able to interpose if a waste of the freehold was going on, and the archdeacons were entitled to see that the parsonage, as well as the church, was kept in repair. The fees and the expenses of repairs could be borrowed by the clergyman from Queen Anne's Bounty; and any clergyman calling for a survey, and obtaining a certificate, would be free for five years from any liability for dilapidations, to which, latter provision great value was attached by the clergy. He should be the last man to promote the measure if it threw any fresh burdens on the parochial clergy; but they themselves, or at least the more prudent among them, were anxious for it, and since 1862 there had hardly been a single Petition against its principle.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Archbishop of York.)


said, he did not intend, after what occurred last night, to move the rejection of the Bill, though he thought it was insufficiently considered last year, and was a measure as objectionable as that discussed yesterday. The Episcopal Bench were departing from their original functions—those relating to doctrine and discipline—by meddling with the financial arrangements of the parochial clergy. They had nothing to do with them. Dilapidations were a matter resting between the incoming and outgoing incumbent; and though they were occasionally irrecoverable, through the insolvent position of the latter, such cases were rare, and it was best to leave the question to the parties concerned. He was of opinion that the same evils might arise in this case as he thought would arise in the case of the Benefices Resignation Bill, and even more strongly; the evil was to place the parochial clergy under the control of the Bishop. A surveyor was to be sent every five years to examine the state of the parish. Under the Bill, the surveyor, though not appointed by the Bishop directly, was appointed at a meeting over which he might preside if he thought proper, or failing him, the archdeacon; and the sanction of the Bishop must be obtained. Now surveyors, as his judicial experience had shown him, were a very expensive class of men. The whole expense of their employment would fall upon the clergyman. It would be necessary to have an inspection by the surveyor from time to time in order to ascertain what repairs were required; the incumbent might then carry them out himself if he pleased; but then a second survey would be required to certify that the repairs had been properly carried out. The whole of this must be borne by the incumbent, and in the aggregate a very heavy burden would be thrown on the parochial clergy. Then not only might the archdeacon complain to the Bishop, but the latter might, under Clause 26, order an inspection of any parsonage of his own accord. [The Archbishop of YORK explained that that clause applied only to episcopal residences.] In that case, his objection, in that respect, fell to the ground; but he observed, that if the repairs thought necessary were resisted by the incumbent, the matter was to be determined as in the nature of a lawsuit by the Bishop, and the expense would certainly be serious. There was, moreover, he thought, a technical objection to the Bill. The Bill would tax a large body of persons, and he did not remember any measure the whole scope of which was the raising of money for certain purposes from a particular class having originated in that House. What view the House of Commons would take of it he did not know, and if their privileges were guarded by the money clauses being struck out when it was sent down to them the very essence of the Bill would disappear.


said, the noble and learned Lord seemed to have derived his views of the Bill from a pamphlet which had probably reached many of their Lordships, for his noble and learned Friend had used almost in the same order the arguments of the ingenious writer. The author's name had been communicated to him, and he was happy to recognize in him a Gloucestershire incumbent and a very intelligent and sensible man; but he did not believe his arguments would meet with general acceptance among his brother clergymen. It was apparently feared that the Bishops wanted to violate the proper independence of the parochial clergy; but he joined in his most rev. Friend's disclaimer of any desire to interfere with their privacy or welfare, and he did not believe for one moment that in any diocese any sinister design was imputed to the Bill by any of those for whose benefit it was framed. It might, indeed, be objected that though it raised the difficult question as to what dilapidations were, it did not attempt to answer it; but though it confessedly left this difficulty as it found it, the Bill notwithstanding removed the real and practical difficulties connected with the question, by providing an uniform course of proceeding and a consistent treatment of all cases that came under its purview. It was based on the recommendations of the clergy themselves, as expressed in the Convocation of both Provinces, and could hardly be supposed as threatening any injustice to to those whom the noble and learned Lord seemed so desirous to protect. The writer of the pamphlet referred to ruri-decanal meetings and to Convocation as packed assemblies, for which he had neither respect nor reverence, and he emphatically stated that he preferred the opinion of laymen. While joining in the writer's respect for the opinion of laymen, he supported the Bill, as one likely to be beneficial to the clergy and to the Church at large.

On Question? agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly.