HL Deb 03 March 1914 vol 15 cc367-70

My Lords, I beg to ask the Lord Chancellor the Question standing in my name—viz.: whether any representations have been made to him by the Bishop of Lincoln, or by any other resident in the Diocese of Lincoln, in respect of the presentation and institution of the Rev. Thomas Cowpe Lawson to the Vicarage of Bourne, Lincolnshire; whether he will state the nature of those representations, and the steps taken by himself in consequence of them; whether it was by his act or direction that the Rev. Henry Cotton Smith was presented in October, 1913, to the Vicarage of Bourne from the Vicarage of Castle Bytham; whether he is aware that much surprise has been caused by the manner in which the vacancy in the Vicarage of Castle Bytham has been filled; and whether he can communicate to the House the correspondence which has passed respecting these transactions, or explain them.


My Lords, the Question which the noble Earl asks relates to the circumstances under which the living of Castle Bytham has been filled, and it involves also the presentation to the Vicarage of Bourne. Perhaps it will be convenient if I shortly state the facts. Last May my attention was called to the fact that there appeared to be ground for believing that simoniacal practices had prevailed in connection with the purchase of the right of presentation to the living of Bourne, and on looking into the matter I was of the same opinion. I consequently held that the living was vacant, the presentation being void under the Statute of 31 Elizabeth against simony. The circumstances were briefly these. As your Lordships know, there are two parties who take a great interest in getting control of presentations to livings—two parties in the Church—and both of these had for some time previous to 1911, when the living at Bourne became vacant, been anxious to obtain the advowson. I do not mean two official parties, but two sets of persons who took a different view as to what were the right qualifications for the clergyman of that living. Accordingly, one of the two parties very nearly succeeded in persuading the patron of the living, who was a private person, to sell the advowson. The incumbent was old, and just before the purchase was completed the incumbent died. There was a transaction under which a large sum of money was paid to joint names on account of the patron, and the gentleman who was recently incumbent of the living was in consequence presented.

There was evidence that the transaction had taken place subsequent to the death of the old incumbent and that the transaction was simoniacal. In the circumstances the presentation lapsed to the Crown and came under my control. I had to decide what was to be done. There was an incumbent there, some one who had been nominated in the circumstances I have described. He was still actually performing his duties, and the question was, what was to be done with him. The presentation was void, and it was open to me either to confirm him, to reappoint him, or to put in somebody else. The circumstances were complicated by this fact, that although the Bishop of Lincoln had taken a strong view about the simoniacal nature of the transaction he had inquired into the character of the clergyman presented and as to whether he was in any way implicated in the transaction; and the Bishop wrote to me stating that, having investigated the case, he was satisfied that there was no evidence that the presentee knew anything of the simoniacal circumstances, and, further, that he was guiltless of any complicity.

In these circumstances the position of the presentee was a very hard one, because if I had turned him out it would have been impossible for him to have got another living. He had been brought from Sheffield where he had been doing admirable work. He was a clergyman with Low Church views, active in his work, and popular with a considerable number of people in Bourne, the vicarage to which he had been presented. On the other hand, the circumstances of his presentation, and, I understand, his views, made him unpopular with another very important section in Bourne, and in these circumstances I thought it my duty, following the practice on such occasions, to seek the advice of the most rev. Primate. The most rev. Primate gave me this advice, with which I entirely agreed, that it was not expedient that this presentee should be confirmed in the occupation of the benefice. Then came this difficulty. I was quite clear as to what was my duty from the Church point of view, but I was not quite clear what was my duty from the judicial point of view—or, rather, I was quite clear that my duty was to make any arrangement I could which would save this unfortunate man, who had been implicated without his knowledge in the circumstances I have stated, from ruin.

Well, I saw the Bishop of Lincoln and also the rural dean, and as a result we made this arrangement, which I thought was a good one in the circumstances. This man was an admirable clergyman, though his views were not those of a considerable section of the parishioners in Bourne. But there was another living which belonged to the Bishop in which there was an incumbent who had views and qualities which seemed to render him a suitable person to present to Bourne. So I said to the Bishop of Lincoln that if he thought fit I would arrange to present to Bourne the incumbent of Castle Bytham, which was in the Bishop's gift, and the Bishop in his turn would present Mr. Lawson to the Castle Bytham living. That arrangement has been carried out, and I have no reason to doubt that it is working very well. What I want to emphasise is that we must be careful in forming a judgment about this case. Bourne itself is enormously divided over the merits of Mr. Lawson, though I have no doubt that the wise course was the course I took in conformity with the advice of the most rev. Primate—namely, that in the circumstances it was inexpedient that Mr. Lawson should continue at Bourne. I also felt that it would not be right to treat him in a way which might lead to his ruin, he being in every way a suitable person, and that he should be transferred. The transfer is therefore one which was carried out by myself and the Bishop of Lincoln, and I think on the whole it was, if I may venture to say so, a wise solution of an extremely difficult situation.

House adjourned at ten minutes past Five o'clock, till To-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.