§ MR. GOLDNEY,
in rising to call the attention of the House to the unfair and exceptional working of the Ecclesiastical Dilapidations Acts, 1871 and 1872; and to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the operation of the Acts, said, he did not ask the House to grant any peculiar privileges, but simply wished to obtain relief for a large body of men who had been subjected to serious grievances by this legislation, which had been very oppressive to the parochial clergy not only in regard to the fees which they were obliged to pay, but in being deprived of all right in the appointment of the valuer who was to assess the the amount for dilapidations which they were either to pay or receive. Previous to the year 1871 the temporal matters of the clergy could generally be dealt with in the Common Law Courts; but the statute then passed gave to the Bishop of each diocese exclusive and absolute power over these matters, and without his sanction no one could appoint surveyors for ascertaining whether there were dilapidations in the parsonage or not. This was required to be done in some cases every three or four years; but in all cases when a vacancy occurred the surveyor had an entire right to invade the parsonage, to examine all the property, and could make an order for repairs to be done to what extent and within what time he chose to name without hearing or allowing the parson 372 to say one word. Unless an appeal was made within a month the report of the surveyor became absolute against the incumbent; and under the penalty of sequestration the incumbent must pay the requisite sum of money in a limited period to the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty. But if he did appeal, in 99 cases out of 100 he would have to bear the expense of a second survey. Until he could obtain the surveyor's certificate he was unable to recover the amount he had deposited, under the provisions of the Act, with the Commissioners of Queen Anne's Bounty, in whose hands a sum of £110,000, the money of the parochial clergy, was now lying beyond the amount expended. They could gain no benefit from it, and that greatly aggravated the case, because the money had often to befound at short notice. He was informed that the amount of fees under the Act would amount annually, unless an alteration could be made, to £34,000 a-year. There was in every county in England a strong feeling against the operation of the Acts. Meetings had been held in Norfolk, Shropshire, Yorkshire, Somersetshire, and indeed in most counties and dioceses; and since he placed this Notice on the Paper he had received an enormous number of complaints, illustrating the exacting nature of the law, and the oppressive action of some surveyors towards the unfortunate clergymen. In one case which had come under his notice, a clergyman, with an income of £100 a-year, was required to become responsible for dilapidations to the extent of £1,000, the sum required amounting to 10 years' income. Could anything be more monstrous? In another case the surveyor sent in a bill for four guineas, though he reported that there were no dilapidations, and the Bishop's secretary also sent in his bill for registering the surveyor's report. In another, where the living was only £96 per annum, the official surveyor reported that £127 should be expended in repairs. An unofficial but very able surveyor was asked to give his opinion on the matter, and he said that at the utmost an expenditure of only £50 17s. 6d. would be sufficient. Complaint being made of the report of the official surveyor, the Bishop sent another surveyor, who put the amount at £160. In another case an east window had been blocked for 172 373 years, and a reredos had been erected; but it was now proposed by the surveyor that the east window should be opened, to which, the assent of the Bishop had been obtained, and a change was to be made at the sole cost of a new incumbent who was wholly innocent in what had been assented to by a succession of generations. When this Act passed the boon was held out that the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty would make advances in certain cases towards the alteration of buildings; but the Governors said they could do nothing until inquiry had been instituted, and until a number of queries had been answered, and the value of the living afforded a good security. Under the operation of the Act of 1871 clergymen had found themselves placed, so far as their temporal benefices were concerned, under the control of men of whom they know nothing, and in whose appointment they had no voice, and who exercised their powerin an arbitrary and sometimes in an oppressive way. He now asked in their name that the House would grant a Committee to inquire into their grievances on this point and to ascertain whether or not this important class of Her Majesty's subjects, who were not too wealthy, and who did their duty, were being treated with injustice. In conclusion, he begged to move for the appointment of the Select Committee.
§ MR. MONK
said, that as he was the Member who had charge of the Act of 1871 while passing through that House he would make a few observations. He did not understand that there was any objection to the principle of the Act, but only to some of its provisions and the way in which they were carried out by the surveyors. The Bill was referred to a Select Committee during the last Parliament—one of the strongest ever appointed in that House—which included the names of Mr. Gladstone, Mr. Bouverie, Sir George Grey, Mr. Assheton Cross, Lord John Manners, Mr. W. H. Smith, Mr. Gathorne Hardy, and Mr. Russell Gurney. A main object of the Bill was to save the families of deceased incumbents from being called on to pay for the dilapidations of ecclesiastical edifices. The principle of the Bill was that during the life of the incumbent the benefice house should be kept in a good state of repair. Another Act was passed in 1873 enabling the Archbishops, the Lord 374 Chancellor, and others to frame a table of fees; but, strange as it might seem, that had not yet been done, and through that neglect he believed that the evils of which the hon. Member had complained had arisen. He thought the hon. Member had made out a clear case for the appointment of a Committee, and he hoped the Government would assent to the Motion which had been submitted to the House.
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
said, the Act undoubtedly was intended for the relief of the clergy, to enable them during their lifetime to take care that those who were left after them should not be called upon suddenly, and at a time when they were least able to bear it, to pay heavy sums of money. He was bound to say that it had been over-weighted in many of its provisions, and the machinery by which that good intention was proposed to be carried out had practically broken down in many respects. He had received representations from many parts of the country showing the grievous hardships which had fallen upon clergymen under the provisions of this Act as it stood. He thought there were many of its provisions which might, after due consideration, be made very beneficial; but he thought it would be a hardship upon the clergy to allow the Act to remain in its present state. They had made out a very fair case, and he felt that the Government ought not to resist the appointment of this Committee. It had been too much the practice to create fees, and then it usually happened that they had to create officers to consume them. There could be no doubt that to work the Act in its present state would entail a very heavy cost; and he hoped the Committee to be appointed would be able to make the Act work better, so as to give that relief which it was originally intended to give.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Select Committee appointed, "to inquire into the operation of the Ecclesiastical Dilapidations Acts of 1871 and 1872."—(Mr. Goldney.)
§ And, on March 27, Committee nominated as follows:—Mr. Walter, Mr. BIRLEY, Lord GEORGE CAVENDISH, Mr. DODDS, Mr. FORESTER, Mr. FRESHFIELD, Mr. GREGORY, Mr. BERESFORD HOPE, Mr. KNATCHBULL-HUGESSEN, Mr. MOND, Mr. COWPER-TEMPLE, Mr. WAIT, Mr. FREDERICK WALPOLE, Sir SYDNEY WARETLOW, and Mr. GOLDNEY:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Five to be the quorum.