HL Deb 07 June 1875 vol 224 cc1452-60

Order of the Day for the Third Beading, read: The Queen's Consent signified.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 3a."—(The Lord Bishop of Peterlorough.)


once more protested against the passing of this Bill. It was a measure that would do no credit to their Lordships' House—it touched merely the fringe of the subject, and yet was sufficient to depreciate the property of many persons without doing any service to the Church. He was prepared, if necessary, to compare the exercise of the patronage of private patrons with that of public patrons, and to maintain that private patrons were the best friends of the Established Church. He hoped the Bill might not pass through the other House of Parliament.


protested against the unfair attacks made by noble Lords on the other side against the principle of the Bill and the manner in which the measure had been misrepresented by several noble Lords opposite. It had been spoken of as if it were a Bill brought forward by the Episcopal Bench in a spirit of hostility to the laity, and had been forced upon the House by the action of the Bishops. But noble Lords who made the charge forgot that the Bill had been framed on the recommendations of a Select Committee of their Lordships, which was largely composed of laymen, and that all the important recommendations had been passed by that Committee by large majorities. It was only by an accident the Amendment proposed a few nights ago by the most rev. Primate had not been adopted by that Select Committee. Allusion bad been made in the debates on this Bill to a depreciation of the property, consisting of Church patronage, in lay hands, but could the sale of a cure of souls be spoken of as we spoke of the sale of a house or of land? The only way in which property in advowsons could be regarded was as property impressed with a trust. He, in common with large numbers of the clergy and laity of the Established Church, had long felt that the law as it at present stood was utterly inadequate to meet the evils with which the Bill was intended to deal. Had he wanted any proof of that it would have been supplied by two instances which had come under his own observation within the last six months. In one case the patron, who was more mindful of the ties of kindred than of the welfare of the parish over which he was proposed to preside, presented a near relative of his own, of intemperate habits, in the face of a protest on the part of the parishioners; but the Bishop of the diocese, though he was not unwilling, was yet unable to act in the matter; he was utterly powerless to interfere. The other ease was one of next presentation, which was sold in such a manner that, as the law at present stood, it was impossible for the Bishop or any one else to have taken exception to the clerk presented to the living, though the sale in every sense contravened the spirit of the law. He hoped that when the Bill reached the other House it would meet with the success it deserved.


denied that noble Lords on that side of the House had treated this Bill in an unjustifiably severe manner—on the contrary, he thought they had behaved very well towards its principle. They had not retorted upon the right rev. Prelates when very strong remarks were made about the exercise of lay Church patronage. They might have retorted by referring to cases in which the sons and sons-in-law of Bishops had been instituted in a very curious manner—they might have referred to one instance, when testimonials were in question, the Bishop said—"The father is a better judge of the qualifications of his son than anyone else;" and the testimonials were cast aside. Notwithstanding what had been said by the noble Viscount who had just addressed the House, he contended that noble Lords on the Opposition side had behaved with great moderation. They had only spoken in disfavour of the Bill on those points where they believed it would tend to damage the interests of the Church; and they had not divided in any case except where the Lord Chancellor and Government divided with them; and if on that occasion the right rev. Bench was defeated it was defeated by the good sense of the House.


believed there was a necessity for a change in the law, and that the removal of the abuses with which this Bill was intended to meet would be for the interest of the Established Church. There was a manifest distinction between the sale of a next presentation and the sale of an advowson; and he thought, in the case of the former, something should be done, in the interest of private patrons themselves, to remove the abuses which at present existed in it. As to the argument that it would be unwise to attempt to deal with the interests of private patrons because of the support which they would give if any attempt were made to overthrow the Establishment, he believed that the removal of any existing defects in the law on that subject would help to strengthen the Church, and all private interests depending upon the Establishment.


felt it to be incumbent on him to say a few words in explanation of his vote the other evening. On a former occasion, as member of the Committee, when he voted for doing away with the sale of next presentations, he did so believing that proper compensation would be given; but on looking further into the matter he saw reason to change his mind, and the result was that he voted the other night against the Motion of the most rev. Prelate. His reasons for doing so were these. It seemed to him that to pass the bare measure then proposed would not have the effect of removing the scandals which all of them wished to see removed, and that it would be necessary for them to consider whether they were prepared to go further and interfere with the sale of advowsons. After that they would find they must go further still. The only consistent plan was one which had been proposed to the Committee by the right rev. Prelate who ruled over the diocese of Exeter— namely, that all private patronage, except that which was directly connected with landed property, should be purchased by Boards for the various dioceses, and in future be vested in them. This proposal, however, was almost unanimously rejected. Perhaps nothing could tend more to reduce the Church to mere mediocrity than a system of patronage Boards. Another course was open, and that was to place all the livings at the disposal of the Bishops; but this would have the effect in time of giving a mere party character to the dioceses. Therefore, they would be reduced to the only other alternative—that was giving the presentation to the parishioners. It could not be maintained, however, that that course would remove the sentimental grievance of which so much was heard. The complaint would still be raised by the minority—who might be numerous—that the cure of their souls was committed to one who was not of their choice.


My Lords, I am extremely anxious that this Bill should go before the other House and before the country without any misapprehensions; and I am constrained to say that the longer the subject is discussed the misapprehensions increase. The first misapprehension is that the noble Lord who has just addressed the House (Earl Nelson) seems to suppose that somebody has made a complaint of being ill-used. Certainly, my right rev. Brother the Bishop of Peterborough has no reason, to make such a complaint. There never was a Bill better treated than this Bill has been by your Lordships' House. It was read a second time without a division, and I hope will now be read a third time without a division. Moreover, it was passed through Committee without any material alteration. I hope, therefore, that any misapprehension there may be as to the Bill having been unfairly treated will speedily disappear. But that is not the end of the misapprehensions. It appears to be supposed that this is a clerical Bill, as opposed to the laity. Now, my Lords, I do not think that there is any man in this House who has a higher opinion of the excellent way in which lay patronage is generally administered than I have, and I believe that the opinion which I hold is shared by my right rev. Brethren who sit behind me. I think there has been in the debate on the Bill some danger to lay patrons, but I do not think that that danger has arisen from any proposal emanating from my right rev. Brother or any Member of the Episcopal Bench. It was remarked by one of my right rev. Brethren, in commenting on a speech of a noble Friend of mine (Lord Houghton) who sits opposite, that many speeches of that kind might be dangerous to the Established Church. I confess I do not share that apprehension. It seems to me that it would be dangerous, not to the Church but to lay patronage, if the peculiar views expressed in that speech, and of which we have heard a few echoes from other parts of the House, were to prevail. Were your Lordships to strain the rights of lay patrons as some noble Lords would wish you to strain them, it seems to me that you would be taking the surest course to destroy lay patronage altogether. In my own mind I am fully convinced of the great value of lay patronage, and therefore I desire to see it maintained on the proper grounds, and to help to remove from it any of those evils which in the lapse of time are sure to arise in all ancient institutions; and it is with that intention that I and my right rev. Friends have introduced this measure of which your Lordships have so strongly approved. On the last evening when this measure was under discussion, it was remarked that the division which occurred on the Amendment which I proposed was of a peculiar character, all the occupants of the Bishops' bench voting one way and all the lay patrons the other. It so happened that several noble Lords who were not ecclesiastical Peers, and who were favourably disposed to the Amendment, were not present on that occasion; but the Bishops, being here to do their duty, recorded their votes in accordance with their convictions. I am bound to say that had there been a very full House I do not suppose that the result of the division would have been different, because I think there is little doubt that your Lordships' House is not prepared at the present moment to do away with the sale of next presentations. It is only right that I should state that the Bishops feel strongly upon this subject, because they have peculiar facilities for ascertaining what the sentiments of the laity of their various dioceses are with regard to it. We necessarily mix much with the laity of all classes. It is our privilege to mix with those who are great landed proprietors and the distributors of lay patronage throughout the country; and we also mix with the different churchwardens and with large masses of persons in the middle classes who are not the proprietors of this sort of patronage, and we attach very great importance to the feelings of the great middle class of this country on this question. Therefore, it may perhaps occur to those who have taken an opposite view to ourselves in this matter that we are at least as well informed with regard to the opinion of the laity on the question as they are. I hope and trust that whatever may be thought of this Bill "elsewhere," it will not for a moment be supposed that it is a clerical Bill opposed to the wishes of the laity. I have maintained from the first that patronage is a trust, and that the Legislature is bound, so far as possible, to remove everything attaching to it that seems to countenance an opposite view—namely, that it is merely private property—a light in which some noble Lords appear inclined to regard it. In conclusion, I have to thank the House for the way in which they have received this measure, and to express my hope that, whether the Bill passes through the other House of Parliament this Session, or whether it is lost in the press of Public Business, the debates in this House with regard to it will not have been altogether useless, inasmuch as they will prove that the right rev. Prelates are anxious that lay and clerical patrons alike should exercise their patronage under a deep conviction of their responsibility, and are desirous of maintaining lay patronage freed from the blots which at present disfigure the system.


shortly addressed their Lordships, but his remarks were imperfectly heard.


expressed his regret that anything should have fallen from him in the course of the debates upon this Bill which could be regarded as being in any degree hostile to the right rev. Prelates. It must, however, be remembered that so large a question as the Church Establishment admitted of many different views being taken of it. It was, however, in his opinion, doing no good service to the Establishment to be continually bringing before the public any small defects which were naturally incident to the working of so vast a machine. He had taken the unpopular view of this question, and, no doubt, most of the great Dissenting bodies in the country would agree with the right rev. Prelate who had introduced this Bill. He could not but think that a Bill which came before their Lordships and was now the law of the land affecting another portion of the United Kingdom had a great deal to do with encouraging the agitation which had arisen against lay patronage; for that Bill had hardly passed before Bills for the modification of private patronage were brought forward in the House of Commons. He had already said he believed that the Bill would be injurious to the Church. It evidenced a profound distrust of lay patrons, and threw as much impediment as possible in the way of the exercise of such patronage. It did so by providing a sort of popular appeal on the appointment of every clergyman, making privileged all communications received by the Bishop on the subject of the presentee—which were, in fact, very little better than anonymous letters—and by assuming that the persons to be presented would be in many cases improper persons to appoint. For his part, he had always set his face against any notion of privileged communications. They were encouragements to the worst and meanest actions of mankind, and he certainly never expected to see a right rev. Prelate introducing a Bill which invited anything so degrading in its nature. Again, the Bill abolished what were called resignation bonds, by which a clergyman, properly examined and inducted, took charge of a living until a person in the family who was considered fit to hold it was in a position to do so. By those means the connection between the family and the landed estate and parish was maintained, and fit employment was given to a certain number of very excellent clergymen who from accidental circumstances did not occupy any particular cure. What injury, he asked, could result from an arrangement of that kind which had been so long recognized?


thought that the debate had taken a range wide of the question before their Lordships. He was a Member of the Committee which sat last year to consider the entire subject, and the Bill was founded strictly upon their Report. The Bill which their Lordships were now called upon to pass in no way touched the question of the sale of advowsons or next presentations; the provisions of the Bill were directed exclusively to the object of strengthening the hands of the Bishops and enabling them to discharge effectually the duty of inducting to the spiritualities of a living those persons only who were fully and properly qualified in all respects for the due and efficient discharge of the duties of the office. He hoped therefore that the Bill would go to the other House of Parliament with the cordial concurrence of their Lordships.


said, that he had little to add to what had been said so ably and in so conciliatory a spirit in support of the Bill. He would only say as to the principle of the measure that if the principle were laid down that the sale of benefices—the transfer of the right of patrons—should be free and unfettered, in the same degree they should strengthen the safeguards which from the very first the law gave to the Bishop for the purpose of guarding against an improper exercise of that patronage. Therefore, the more fully the sales of advowsons and next presentations were allowed the more fairly and righteously, he thought, might the Bishops—who were, after all, trustees in this matter for the laity of the Church of England—seek at their Lordships' hands power to discharge that duty which the law gave them to discharge—a duty which was not that of vetoing the appointment of any patron, but simply of ascertaining the fitness of the person he presented, and of doing so at their own proper risk and cost. The Bishop's power to act was the power, not of vetoing, it was simply the power of objecting. It was once said of the autocracy of the Emperor of Russia that it was an absolute monarchy limited by assassination. The Bishop, according to the law of England, had the power of objecting limited by costs, and he did not think that power was a dangerous one to place in the hands of the Bishop. Before he sat down he wished to give the noble Duke opposite (the Duke of Somerset) a distinct assurance that he had never said that the Bill had met with unfair opposition either from the side on which the noble Duke sat or on any side of their Lordships' House. On the contrary, nothing could be more fair, more straightforward, and in every way more courteous than the opposition which was led by the noble Viscount (Viscount Portman). And nothing could be more indulgent and considerate than the manner in which their Lordships had allowed him to trespass upon their attention in respect of a matter in which he felt, and had felt, so very deep an interest. He could not allow the Bill to leave their Lordships' House without once more thanking them for the very great fairness, courtesy, and kindness with which they had treated both the bill and the author of it.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 3a accordingly, and passed, and sent to the Commons.

House adjourned at Seven o'clock, till To-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.