HL Deb 19 February 1919 vol 33 cc167-78

LORD STRATHSPEYhad the following Notice on the Paper—

To call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the question of the wrongful position of many of the clergy of our National Church, which is largely due to the starvation salaries which they receive.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I have two reasons for bringing this matter forward on behalf of the clergy of the Church of England. One is that I understand that the majority of the clergy of the other Churches have had increased stipends, and the other is that I have had so many applications from English Church clergy all over the country to bring the matter forward that in the ordinary course of events I could not refuse to do so. I have not, of course, received applications from the clergy of other denominations. I cannot bring up all the letters that I have received on the subject, but I propose to read portions of some that have been sent to me in order to give your Lordships an idea of what the clergy in different parts of the country think of the matter.

Religion is a peculiar thing. We do not all think alike concerning it. Some people take religion from their birth, but the majority have to be coached up to it. A clergyman must be able to keep up a certain appearance in the eyes of the ordinary man in the street. We sometimes hear the remark, as a clergyman passes, "That is our poor parson." When that is the state of religion in the country it is a deplorable thing. A clergyman is supposed to be a teacher on this earth of our Creator. When the people in the street regard him with scorn, sneer at him, and call him "The poor parson," I say it is a deplorable state of affairs for religion. It is a well-known fact, ever since the time of the Israelites, that if religion had not a sufficient hold on any country that country would not last for any length of time. If, instead of our clergymen having paltry sums of £100 a year, each one had an income of £1,000 or more the country would thereby be greatly benefited.

When I came back to this country in 1913 I was ashamed and disgusted at the state in which I found it. It was absolutely going to decay. It is no exaggeration to say that the war has pulled the country together as nothing else could have done. We all, of course, deplore the war because of the loss of life that it involved, but the fact remains that the war pulled the country together and has pulled religion together. It has given the people an idea of religion, and has taught them to understand religion better. This will give you some idea of the necessity— Not money alone but workers must be found. The Church is understaffed, its clergy are underpaid. There is no monetary attraction to draw men to the ministry of the Church. The war has deprived the Church of more than 2,000 clergy, several thousands of lay helpers and social workers are needed for the task of reconstruction; the Church has no central fund to provide them. There are men knocking at the door of the Church inspired by the Divine call to its service. Chaplains serving at the front have found that war, in bringing men closer to the realities of life and death, has bred in a number of them a burning desire to take Holy Orders and serve in the cause of peace as they have served in the cause of freedom. Few of these men have private means; the fulfilment of their vocation is denied them unless their training can be assisted or provided for them. The Church of England must not close its doors to such men. They are the very men for the work of spiritual reconstruction. They have lived with their comrades in the trenches and seen them fall in battle, they have shared their hardships and their peril, and they have learned the secrets of their souls. The nation dare not lose the moral inspiration which these men eagerly tender. Most of these men come from what we call the middle classes. The middle class in this country are in most cases an unfortunate class. They have to suffer in many cases untold miseries. They are a very proud race. They are not like the ordinary labouring class here. The miners and all those other classes, if they want anything, strike; they have unions. It is not so with the middle classes or with the clergy. Here is a letter from a clergyman: One of the chief causes of our poverty is the rating of the clergy fund. The clergy are rated on every possible occasion, and on some occasions they are rated twice on one income. They are even rated on Easter offerings. He goes on— Most of the laity are utterly ignorant that such is the case. It is quite a usual thing for the parson to pay twice as much in rates as his lay neighbour. This is from another letter— The Manchester rectors are still worrying the Ecclesiastical Commissioners about an extra grant. We (the rectors) consider that we are not getting sufficient from the Commissioners out of the Manchester Chapter revenues There are large sums of money belonging to the ancient parish of Manchester, and all the parishes formed out of the ancient parish are entitled to benefit by those moneys. The money is paid to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and they redistribute it among the rectors. Some of us get £250 a year, others £300 a year, from them. We claim that the funds will allow an increase of £25 a year, at least, all round. We further claim that the Income Tax justly belongs to us and would allow of a further grant being made. Here is another ease. It is a small matter in itself but refers to the income of a clergyman. Prior to 1914 the stipend of the living was £400 a year. The war has generally decreased pew rents and other things and to-day this clergyman has an income of £344. That is a general loss to that poor clergyman of £56 a year. In the meantime, with the war and other factors, the costs have gone up to double, so that if the original amount of £400 were still being paid it would be worth about £200 to-day. In the ordinary course of events a clergyman is Christ's representative on this earth and his position should be on a pedestal, and a proper degree of reverence should be paid to him, instead of his being pointed at as "the poor parson." It is deplorable, and it is utterly impossible for any country in the world to last and to remain in a prosperous state so long as religion is not cultivated.

I remember about seven or eight years ago this country began to consider that religion wanted revival, but it did not consider whether it wanted revival in this country. Instead of that, it sent missionaries to New Zealand—my little country. Very likely it was not thought of seriously beforehand, but that action in itself was an insult to New Zealand. We are not saying that we are so good that we do not want missionaries there, but the fact was that the fault and the remedy lay with this country and the fault and the remedy lies with this country to-day. It is not the least good sending missionaries to New Zealand, Australia, or elsewhere until you have remedied this country first of all.

The state of the majority of the clergy here to-day is simply one of slavery. We are a free nation, a free Empire; we have done away with slavery years ago, but to-day it is, practically speaking, a matter of slavery to the clergy. In the "Church Directory" we find that the vicarage of East Ham has a population of 50,000 and the vicar gets an income of £360 a year. That is a large income for a vicar! The "London Diocesan Book" shows that All Hallows, Barking, has a population of 289 and an income of £1,823. All Hallows, Lombard Street—population 202, income £1,280; St. Edmund the King, Lombard Street—population 77, income £1,374; St. Peter, Cornhill—populatien 102, income £871. In the Rural Deanery of West City, St. Alphage, London Wall, has a population of 36, and the income is £1,010. All Saints, Twickenham, has a population of 5,000; the income is £200 a year, out of which the vicar has to pay rent, rates, and taxes. It is obvious that this does not leave much to live upon, let alone, if he has a family, educating the children and bringing them up in accordance with his position. With regard to the City churches, I consider that many of them are unnecessary; they should be closed, the property sold, and the proceeds allocated for the relief of poverty among many of the clergy by increasing endowments.

I do not want your Lordships to run away with the idea that I wish to reconstruct the country; I am here for the sake of clergymen and for the sake of religion in general. In this country there are a number of private living. Are those livings out for the good of religion and mankind? It seems to me that they are out more to help the man with influence and money. For instance, a clergyman friend of mine was once after a living and he was asked plainly whether he had influence or money; and he was told that if he had neither the one nor the other he had not much chance of getting on. I have seen a number of cases where men thus circumstanced have remained at the bottom of the ladder. It naturally follows that if religion is to retain its proper footing in the country there must be reconstruction.

Let me give your Lordships another illustration. Some years ago a young married man was appointed to a living in Cornwall with the magnificent stipend of £40 a year. After remaining there for seventeen years the income was increased to about £60 a year. The clergyman was then moved to another parish where the income was about £117 or £118 a year. He thought he was in clover, but owing to the hardships incurred in trying to live on £40 a year and endeavouring to perform all the work of his late parish, he became ill and died. I should say that the vicarage in which he had lived was a thirty-roomed house. This man naturally could not leave any money behind for redecoration, so Queen Anne's Bounty lent £800 for the purpose. At 5 per cent. interest that meant £40, which, deducted from the miserably small income of £117, left only £77 a year. This being the position, no clergyman could be got to take on the living and the thirty-roomed vicarage; therefore the place dropped to pieces, and Queen Anne's Bounty lost their money. Clergymen are faced with increased rates and taxes, but they have had no increase in income to meet this extra expense. Some people have received increased wages, war bonuses, overtime, double pay, and so on, all over the country, but this has not been the case with regard to the clergy. What would the miners or the engineers say if they were in the position of the clergy? They strike. But the clergymen do not; they sit down and suffer because they are out for the cause of religion and of mankind.

While I am on this subject I want to ask the Bishops of England whether they have considered this matter. Have they considered allowing clergymen to increase their fees for marriages, and so on? These are small items in themselves, but they all help to increase the stipends. It has often been said to me that men in the English Church get big salaries, but my opinion is that no man in the Church gets sufficient. If a man in the English Church received £50,000 a year he would not have enough to live upon if he were a good man and lived accordingly. I do not consider that any vicar, however small his parish, should receive less than £100 a year, and no curate should receive less than £250.

Another illustration. Some time ago in Manchester the Ecclesiastical Commissioners stated that they would give a bonus to all clergymen whose incomes were under £310 a year, but that promise has not been fully carried out. The income of one of the clergy in this district for 1916 was under £310, but he received a bonus of only £10. In 1917, his income was still under £310 but he did not even get the £10 bonus. In my opinion it was an insult to offer such a small sum as that. In 1918 his income was over £310, but in the meantime he had gone to another parish with a slightly increased stipend. This gentleman had a lot of correspondence with regard to the subject, but eventually he gave it up.

I come now to a very important matter. The Commissioners in the Manchester district have invested £1,500,000 in War Lean, and year by year since the war started they have invested £400,000 to form a reserve fund. They are doing all this while their poor unfortunate clergy are starving, and, it is to be remembered, not tire clergyman alone but his family. During the last year or two food has been scarce and expensive. Has any one of us considered what the children of the clergy are doing? Have they had enough to eat or enough firing? It is the children we have to consider, and the poor unfortunate clergyman goes without himself in order to feed his children. This money, this £400,000, belongs to the clergy. It is Church money and the clergy are servants of the Church. Railway servants, Civil servants, and everybody else, have received increases in wages and war bonuses, but the servants of the Church can stand and starve while a reserve is built up. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners are not helpful to the clergy, but put every obstacle in the way. If a clergyman wants money he is told that there is no money for that purpose, and here they are piling up money. For what purpose?

Here is another unfortunate thing connection with the clergy. A clergyman has been ten, twelve, or twenty years in a house, and whether he has been a good occupier or not, when he leaves he has to redecorate or pay for it Himself. A clergyman ought to get a house free. It ought not to be a question about paying for anything. The clergy include the finest body of men in England. I have been in a Church of England College in Australia, and I have seen the work they do. It is marvellous the work they do. They are a magnificent body of men. If they were not they would not continue to work for the Church to-day on such terms of starvation and slavery. I am out for the British Empire every time, and because I am out for the British Empire I am standing up here to-day endeavouring to put religion on a better footings If the clergy are not on a proper footing religion cannot possibly be, and I say that the clergy to-day are on a rotten footing.

Another clergyman says that his first "living," or "starving" was in 1896. The gross value was £132 and the net value £91. He had to pay £24 16s. 5d. to Queen Anne's Bounty for a loan to a former vicar for improvements to the house. This man also had to pay between 1895 and 1897 to the Diocesan Society for Proctors' Fees, &c., £13 7s. 6d. About 1895 a neighbouring clergyman had a living worth £332 net, and had to pay over £30 a year for stables built by a former vicar. This man not want the stables. Another clergyman had twelve children and many pupils. His vicarage required enlarging, so he borrowed from Queen Anne's Bounty and built many rooms. He only stopped for a few years, and when he left somebody else had to take the house on and pay extra. There is one man who is paid £100 a year though he has no church. I understand that he gives one service a year on the spot where the church used to stand. Another clergyman says— The main difficulty of the clergy is that they are expected to be able to live now on the same income they had before the war. This, with the depreciation in the value of money, increased taxation and cost of living, is almost impossible—I might say quite impossible on the smaller incomes. The income of this living is £252 a year, and a vicarage. The house is much larger than I want, and is rated at £35 a year. The calls for various subscriptions, he says, are not heavy but are continuous, and he goes on to say that on the night before he wrote this letter a woman was dying in his neighbourhood and he took the eiderdown quilt off his bed and sent it to her. If that is returned to him he cannot keep it, because it may be infected with some infectious disease, and he will have to destroy it. That happens to clergymen times without number. And just look at the income on which they have to do it. Yet they are expected to keep up the position of a gentleman. This clergyman says— On this income of £252 a year I have to educate three children, keep one servant, have a gardener occasionally, subscribe and go to all local functions, keep myself abreast with current knowledge and literature, and take the position of an educated gentleman with half the income of the village grocer. This was hardly possible in pre-war days—it is quite impossible now. There is a very good scheme called the Equal Dividend Fund, and I will read it— To meet these needs, due to the altered condition of things, why cannot the English Church wake up and help itself in a practical manner? It can best do so by adopting a scheme such as the Equal Dividend Fund, which for many years has been successfully worked in the Scottish Episcopal Church, and by which the incomes of all incumbents have been augmented by nearly £100 a year. What has been effected in a comparatively poor Communion could easily be surpassed in wealthy Dioceses in England. The benefits of such a scheme are obvious. It brings before every congregation the duty of the living Church to support its ministry. Clergy who cannot beg for an increase of stipend from their own pulpits can make known the benefits accruing to the whole Church by the working of such a scheme. Wealthy parishes are reminded of this duty, and are able to help the poorer ones. Its simplicity commends it, for it is easily worked, and it interests both clergy and laity of every parish, as every contributing parish benefits. The scheme is briefly this. On a given Sunday sermons are preached for the Fund, and collections made, supplemented by donations from those unable to be present. The total is pooled, and an equal dividend paid to the incumbents of all contributing parishes. By this means the incomes of the beneficed clergy would be augmented, leaving the Diocesan Fund better able to cope with the needs of the unbeneficed. The Fund gives every parishioner the privilege and opportunity of doing his bit.' Comparatively few of the community can send in cheques, but the silver coins of the millions will help to solve-the problem of how to give the clergy a 'living wage.' Another clergyman writes— Together with a cheque for £18 7s. 7d., £8 1s. 9d. Income Tax having been deducted, I received a circular from the governor of the Bank of England asking me to invest it in War Loan— I suppose this clergyman had about £100 a year, with from £15 to £18 deducted for rates and taxes— I really cannot help thinking that most people imagine the clergy live of the Gospel' and are clothed with humility and need not the means of life common to others. As an example of the present condition of the clergy I give brief particulars of some of my nearest neighbours. The first is eighty-four years of age, with an income of £287. The second is a man well over seventy, and an income of £185. The third is over seventy, with an income of £420. In each case there is a vicarage house, and in each case this house is much too large—in the last quite three times the size required, and therefore a considerable source of expense. Of these three only the last, with its income of £420, seems worthy the name of a living,' but as a matter of fact the house is so large and its upkeep so costly that it is hardly as good as the others. The layman will say, 'Why do not these men retire?' The reason is that there is no retiring pension for the clergy. I am told that the Bishops, or some of them, think the clergy in fault for not joining the Clergy Pension Scheme. Then, I answer, why did not they say so before and at the proper time? I spent nearly a week in the Bishop's Palace where I was ordained and nothing of the kind was suggested to me, and I only learned the existence of this Society years afterwards from the Church Times. It was then too late to join owing to the amount of annual premium required. Another writer states— With reference to this serious question might I suggest that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, Queen Anne's Bounty, Universities, and other more or less public bodies connected with ecclesiastical affairs, might do well to take advantage of the high prices now being realised for property, also of the high percentage now obtainable in first-class securities, and sell their estates or a considerable portion of them—urban as well as agricultural. By adopting this practical course they would undoubtedly be able largely to increase grants and stipends, and so extend their benefactions, whilst the purchase moneys realised, if lent to the Government, would greatly assist the country generally. It is also recommended that these different Commissioners, Queen Anne's Bounty, and others, should join together instead of there being separate Commissioners.

To my mind there is no sadder spectacle than that of a shabby, half-starved parson passing rich on £70 or £100 a year. I remember a clergyman once saying that before you attempt to convert a man you must feed him. "God," he said, "does not like half-starved angels," and I am sure He does not like half-starved ministers of His Gospel. I am bound to add, in conclusion, that if the State Church does not acknowledge its duty in this matter the State must step in and act for the Church. The sooner the better. As the matter stands now, it is a disgrace to the whole world.


My Lords, I do not wish to intrude very long upon your Lordships this afternoon, but the subject which the noble Lord has brought before the House is one of the highest possible importance and the extremest urgency, and one upon which I should welcome every possible light that can be thrown, and all the consideration that can be given to it by those best qualified to investigate the whole facts. The condition of things, as shown by everybody who has looked into the matter, is at this moment one for which a solution is most urgently required. It is impossible to exaggerate the need that is being found at this moment in not a few of the clerical homes of this country, and I need hardly say that day by day this matter is before all of us on whom a sense of responsibility rests, and there is a desire to find some way, if it be possible, to meet, not temporarily but permanently, the requirements which are so clamant at this moment.

I bid welcome to the noble Lord as a recruit to the ranks of those who are trying to handle these subjects. The noble Lord tells us that his experience has been in New Zealand. That no doubt accounts for the fact that he is, perhaps, a little less familiar than he would have been in England with the efforts which are being made and the public ventilation given to not a few of the topics that he has brought before us to-day. I listened with the greatest care to what the noble Lord said, and I think I could show him, if it were necessary, that two-thirds of the matters to which he has referred have been the subject not of private but of public consultation and consideration in the councils of the Church and the Convocations of the Church, and in this House itself during the last few years, and that at this moment we have efforts for dealing with a good many man of the problems he has raised, although I grieve to say we can only deal with them at present to a very inadequate extent.

I trust the noble Lord will give us an opportunity of taking counsel with him on these matters. I welcome the attention which he is paying to the subject and the sympathy he is evidently showing to some of our interests and needs. The noble Lord asked, I think more than once, "Have the Bishops really considered these matters?" The Bishops, I was going to say, are doing little else. These matters are before us every day, and almost every letter which the noble Lord read from the Church newspapers have been before me and have received an answer, or, if the question is a practical one, it is at this moment under consideration. He has dealt with four or five large and difficult subjects, including questions of rating of the clergy and the city benefices about which I could explain to him a good deal, but it would be quite out of place to deal with it now. The noble Lord must be aware that the work of these parishes does not consist of those who reside there. The residents may total only seventy, but those who occupy and attend these parish churches from day to day, those churches which the noble Lord criticised, are numerous and are increasing in numbers. The change for the better is a matter for daily observation. I do not want to deal with this subject now, because I hope the noble Lord will give me an opportunity of going into some of these matters with him, when I hope I might be able to throw a little light for him on a great many of the subjects he has touched upon, and probably draw some assistance from him. Our deliberations on these matters have not been confined to the last two or three months, but have been spread over several years past. They are problems which are always with us, and some of theta are the most difficult to solve in our administrative life.

The noble Lord asked why the Church of England had no central fund to assist those men in the Army who wanted to be ordained. If there is one thing I have been doing ceaselessly for a long time it is to proclaim that we have a great central fund to deal with this subject, and we have over 2,000 men who desire to be ordained. We have made arrangements for their training, and as soon as the demobilisation of the Army is completed we shall have a larger number in training. I am pleased to thick that in the noble Lord we shall have another advocate of the call we are making to the country, and I have no doubt he will be able to help us in raising funds for a cause Which he has so eloquently advocated to-day. We shall welcome his help, but the subject is somewhat too long for one to deal with in its entirety to-day. I thank him, however, for having brought forward the matter, for no subject is more earnest or more in need of attention, and he has helped us materially towards an attempt to solve it.


My Lords, the observations by the most rev. Primate make it almost unnecessary to add anything on behalf of the Government. No person of sensibility can be blind to the tragedies to which the speech of the noble Lord draws attention. It is indeed painful to the utmost degree that persons whose duties are to preach the Gospel should not be afforded in this life the means of a decent subsistence and should not be relieved from those anxieties the grinding pressure of which must disable them in the discharge of their duties. The speech of the noble Lord gave evidence of zeal and industry, and I, for one, gladly welcome the suggestion made by the most rev. Primate that the noble Lord should place himself in communication with the representatives of the Church in this House and with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who have devoted much thought and labour to these very problems. I am sure that the influence of the noble Lord will enable the representatives of the Church and the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to decide whether it is necessary or proper to appeal to the Government for help.

Back to