HL Deb 11 June 1875 vol 224 cc1706-11

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, explained that the object of the measure was to facilitate the union of various small benefices in the city of Exeter. The population of the city of Exeter was now about 12,000, which was distributed over 17 parishes or precincts. Of these parishes, three were of a fair size—one containing 3,000 inhabitants and the other two some 1,300 or 1,400 each; but the main part of the population was distributed among the remaining 14 parishes, which were very small. The result was that the clergy of these small parishes were ill-paid, their incomes averaging less than £150 per annum, without a house; that the churches were small, out of repair, and not adapted for the purpose of worship; and that the ordinary parochial work, such as that of education, was badly carried out. The only remedy for such a state of things was to club the smaller parishes together, so as to make parishes that could be worked as separate independent units, while the clergymen would be better paid and would have more work to do. The plan suggested by the Bill was, that where the Bishop of the diocese thought an union of benefices would be of an advantage, he might issue a commission under his hand and seal, which should be empowered to make careful inquiries into the extent and condition of the various parishes, and report to the Bishop their opinion as to the expediency of the proposed union and the terms in which it ought to be effected. The Bishop being so advised would draw up proposals for a scheme, which, with the written consent of the patrons, would be transmitted to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The Commissioners would thereon propose a scheme, and certify to Her Majesty in Council; whereupon Her Majesty might make the necessary Orders for effecting the union. New churches might be erected, and old ones pulled down; but the sites of the old churches were not to be sold without certain consents, and without due provision for the removal of the remains of persons interred there-under. Provision was also to be made for the transfer of lectureships, for compensation to officers displaced; but the font, communion table, plate, and church ornaments were not to be sold, but if not needed for the new church, they were to be transferred to some other church or chapel within the diocese at the selection of the Bishop. It having been pointed out to him that the Bill did not provide sufficiently for the parishes to be affected having a voice in the matter, he should have no objection to amend the measure in that respect in Committee, so as to enable such parishes to appoint one member of the Commission, and to enable any person affected by the Bill to be heard before the Commission. He would not object to insert in the Bill a provision to the effect that the church accommodation in the united parishes should not be diminished by their union, or of a clause to secure to all persons interested a right to be heard before the Commissioners. To one clause of the Bill he desired to draw attention. He alluded to Clause 14, which related to "Dominicals," to which the clergy were entitled. They were small payments due on inhabited houses, and were exceedingly difficult to collect. If they were surrendered, the clergy would be giving up rights of their successors, while to enforce them placed the clergy in a very invidious position, and proceedings for their recovery had more than once caused serious rioting. He had no doubt that the "Dominicals" were a legal payment; but, at the same time, they were in many respects a very inexpedient form of payment for the clergy, and it was very desirable that they should be commuted or redeemed, and that in the cases in which they had not been exacted they should be extinguished. There were 14 benefices directly affected by the Bill. Of these, the clergy of four objected to it, those of eight were in favour of it, one of the remaining two was only just appointed, and the other was neutral in the matter. Lay feeling in the diocese he believed to be in favour of the Bill, and the mayor and town council of Exeter had petitioned all but unanimously in support of it. He confessed he should be glad to see the Bill passed during the present Session, but could scarcely hope that such would be the case at this period of the Session. He trusted, however, the provisions of the measure would be discussed in Committee, so as to guide him as to the form in which such a Bill would be most likely to meet with acceptance at a future time.

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


hoped that the Bill would not be further pressed—more especially as the right rev. Prelate admitted that he had very little hope of its becoming law during the present Session—for the measure, though one of professedly a local character, was one of an extremely grave character. As regarded the wants of the city of Exeter the Bill gave no information whatever, and he thought it would have been satisfactory had some necessary information been given in a Schedule. There could be no doubt that there were in Exeter a number of small and poor benefices, but, as the city was increasing in size and prosperity, he should have thought that it would be better, in many cases, to endeavour to augment the emoluments of those benefices than destroy their identity. He wished, too, to point out that if the five Commissioners to be appointed—three of whom were to be clergymen and two laymen representing the corporation—reported in favour of union, and the Bishop agreed in the report, there would be no means of stopping the proposed union. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners, to whom the report would be sent, would have no option in the matter, and the assent of Her Majesty in Council would be given as of course, as in the case of any Bill which had passed the two Houses of Parliament. There were serious differences between the metropolitan Act for the union of benefices and the present measure. The consent of the vestry and of the incumbent to the union, and the consent of the Archdeacon to the sale of the site of the church, were required in the case of the metropolitan Act, and the scheme had to be laid before Parliament. All these conditions, together with the appeal to the Bishop, were omitted from the present Bill. He understood that in the city of Exeter itself there was by no means a general unanimity of opinion in favour of the measure, and the Government wished to keep themselves unpledged until the matter had received further consideration. The object of the Bill might be very desirable, but he put it to the right rev. Prelate whether it was desirable to press it forward during the present Session. It was impossible to legislate in this way for one particular part of the country.


thought that his right rev. Brother had done good service by calling attention to this subject, although he agreed with the Lord Chancellor that the House could not well legislate for one town alone. The Bill which he had the honour to propose in 1860, and which becoming law had since regulated the union of benefices in the metropolis, dealt as originally proposed with the towns and boroughs generally in England. The old title of the Bill showed that it applied to the country generally, although in its passage through Parliament its operation was restricted to the metropolis. Although the Act had not been vigorously enforced, it had done good service during the 15 years in which it had been in existence. It had united various benefices without any disturbance of the sacred associations connected with the churches and churchyards of the metropolis, and if the right rev. Prelate would introduce the same sort of safeguards which were provided in the metropolitan Act he would have a better chance of passing his measure—although he would not have him follow the lines of that Bill too servilely. The parishioners in vestry assembled had a right to be heard, but vestries were sometimes ruled by vestry clerks whose interests were suffered to be adverse to improvements of this kind. He believed that, from some causes which were not very easy to explain, there were in Canterbury, York, Norwich, and other cities a number of small churches far in excess of the wants either of the former or present population, and the efficiency of the Church in those cities was very much hampered by the want of life in those parishes and the smallness of the incomes of the incumbents. For the reasons he had given, he trusted it was not altogether in vain that his right rev. Brother had called attention to the necessity of doing in Exeter and other places what had been done in London.


rose to express a hope that the right rev. Prelate (the Bishop of Exeter) would be disposed to consider the suggestions which had been made by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. This Bill did not contain by any means the provisions that were necessary for ascertaining the wishes of many of the parties concerned; still less did it sufficiently guard the power of dealing with the sites of churches and with graveyards; which was a matter seriously affecting associations which we were bound to respect. He would not say that in every case consecrated ground should be for ever kept apart from public use: for he believed there were many cases in which sanitary and public improvements rendered it necessary that such sites should be given up. The Bill afforded another proof of the exertions which the right rev. Prelate was making for the good of the diocese; but for the present he trusted that the suggestion to withdraw it would be acceded to.


said, he believed that, if the right rev. Prelate would give up that part of the Bill dealing with churches and churchyards, he could effect everything he could reasonably desire under the existing law. In the metropolitan Act the power of selling churchyards was carefully guarded and restricted, although the great value of land increased the temptation to appropriate them; and, in fact, it was restricted to church sites in which burials had not taken place; and if the right rev. Prelate would be content with the limitations of the metropolitan Act he would remove many of the objections to this Bill, and he would get rid of the necessity for the expensive machinery of a special commission of inquiry. Under the present law, the only restriction upon the union of benefices was that of population; and there being no insuperable difficulty in the re-arrangement of patronage in Exeter, as most of it belonged to the Bishop and Chapter, it would be easy to reduce the number of benefices from ten to five. It appeared, however, that the object of resorting to a commission under the Episcopal seal, as proposed by this Bill, was to save the City of Exeter the trouble and cost of a Provisional Order, which was required for the purposes of local improvement. The consent of the clergy could hardly have been obtained to the introduction of the Bill when the Rural Dean and Chapter stated in a Petition, adopted with one dissentient, that they learnt of the existence of the Bill only a few days before it was set down for a second reading. It was scarcely fair to introduce such a Bill without previous communication with the clergy.


said, he was quite sure that some Bill of this kind was exceedingly desirable. It was evident from the number of parishes in Exeter that they were not large enough for the exercise of the activity of vigorous clergymen, and the only way of enabling Church work to be done effectively was to carry some measure of this kind. Experience of the measure relating to the metropolis had disclosed the enormous number of consents necessary for the carrying out of any scheme; and he believed that in 15 years only two unions of benefices had been effected under it, and the limited operation of the Act was, no doubt, owing to the great number of consents that were required.


said, he was thankful for the suggestions he had received from various quarters with reference to this subject. After what had been stated by the most rev. Primate and by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, he felt it would be very unwise to press forward the Bill in the present Session, both because of the resistance it would encounter and also because he had some hope that a measure would be introduced next Session dealing with the subject on some general principle.

Motion and Bill (by leave of the House) withdrawn.