§ Order for Committee read.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
§ MR. FOLLETT
said, it was his intention to move, as an Amendment, that the House resolve itself into Committee on the Bill that day three months. If he thought that this Bill was calculated to relieve individual consciences from anything like religious intolerance or oppression—if he thought it was calculated, really to add anything in any way to the religious liberty of the people, he would most willingly, and anxiously support it. But he did not think so, and it was because he believed the measure before the House was a political, rather than a religious question, that he ventured to intrude upon the House, He looked upon the measure as the first and main step towards the destruction of the Established Church, and as one of many measures which, from time to time, had been brought forward to alter the institutions of the country in a manner which, he was thoroughly convinced, would be prejudicial to the political, as well as the religious liberties of the people. He considered that it was his duty to move the Amendment of which he had given notice, in consequence of the extraordinary course which Her Majesty's Government had thought fit to pursue. The principle of the Bill was the total abolition of church-rates, and the substitution of nothing in their stead; and upon every occasion during the last twenty-years, when that question had been raised, every Government, until the present, had opposed it. Every Gentleman holding a prominent position in the Government had opposed it on former occasions, and he was, therefore, astonished when he found that every Member of the Government, present at the division, with the exception of three, voted for the introduction of the present Bill. He had been told that the course ho was taking, in opposing the further progress of the Bill at this stage, was rather unusual. The extraordinary course which the Government had taken, with reference to the question, was his reason and his excuse. Relying on the opposition of the Government to the measure, the subject had been fully discussed in its former stages, and he was therefore desirous that the question should be brought under the deliberate consideration of the House. There was no mistake 754 about the principle involved in the measure, namely, the destruction of the Established Church as a State Establishment, and the substitution of the voluntary principle. Upon a measure identical in principle, with the present Bill, the noble Lord, whom he was sorry not to see in his place (Lord J. Russell), stated clearly and distinctly his view of its object, and its inevitable result. In replying to the speeches of the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) and the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Pellatt), the noble Lord last year made use of the following, among other expressions—We have heard to-day, as we have heard upon former occasions, that this is a question of principle, that it is a question between an establishment and the voluntary principle, and that this is only one part of the proposal of those who wish us to exchange establishment for the voluntary principle.Again, he said—They cannot expect me to consider it as an inducement to vote for this Bill, that it will lead me, step by step, to that total destruction of the Established Church which I deprecate.Again, he said—We have a National Church, we have an hereditary aristocracy, we have an hereditary Monarchy, and all these things stand together. My opinion is, too, that they would decay and fall together. * * * I must, therefore, oppose this Bill, as, in my opinion, tending to subvert one of the great institutions of the State."—[3 Hansard, cxxxiv. 469, and 475.]The noble Lord stated, moreover, that it was the duty of the Government to bring forward a measure to amend the law and to get rid of the difficulties which now surrounded the question, and in the face of the House and of the country he pledged himself not to allow another year to pass without introducing a measure which, he trusted, would satisfy all parties. When such were the sentiments of the noble Lord—not expressed for the first time, but repeated again and again whenever the question had been before Parliament—he (Mr. Follett) felt justified in taking means to bring the subject once more under the deliberate consideration of the House. He was anxious to ascertain whether those opinions were still the opinions of the noble Lord, and, if so, how he continued to be a Member of the Cabinet which had encouraged a measure which only last year he had thus described. It was with astonishment he heard the speech of the hon. Member for Hertford (Mr. Cowper), who was put forward as the mouthpiece of 755 the Government on the second reading of the Bill, and who so far as he could understand his arguments, approved of the principle of total abolition, and quarrelled only with the machinery introduced into the Bill by which the pew-rents intended to be levied by the Bill were to be distributed. And that astonishment was not diminished when he found the noble Lord at the head of the Government treating the question, not as one of importance and of principle, but as simply a question of the best mode of providing funds for the repair of parish churches, which he seemed to consider as national property, and stating also that it was not the duty of the Government to bring forward any measure to amend the law, but rather to leave the solution of the difficulty to the various projects of independent Members. The two noble Lords, were, therefore, at total variance on this subject, which one of them had declared to be so important, and yet, they were still Members of the same Cabinet. The question, as stated by the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, was neither more nor less than this—whether they were prepared to abolish the Established Church in this country, and to substitute the voluntary principle in its stead; and no reasonable man could doubt that that was the real question to be considered. When Lord Althorp introduced his measure on this subject in 1834, he fell into the error of supposing the objection to church-rates was founded upon the hardship to individual consciences; but the Dissenters totally repudiated this view of it; they said they did not want to be relieved from personal and individual difficulties—what they wanted was separation of the Church from the State—what they wanted was the destruction of the National Church, and nothing less than that would satisfy them. He must do the Dissenters the justice to say, that they had never concealed their object, they had always openly and manfully advocated those views, without disguise, and had never concealed that their object was to destroy the National Church as a State Establishment. In 1834, when these questions first began to be discussed in that House, Mr. Whittle Harvey—one of the most eloquent advocates of the cause? Said—With regard to the separation of Church and State, if the Dissenters cannot effect it by the legitimate means of free and open discussion, they must effect it by influences appealing more powerfully to the interests of mankind. The Church will fall when it ceases to have revenues.756 Could any one doubt, therefore, what the object of the Dissenters was in pressing forward such a measure? If the intention or object were merely to relieve Dissenters from a state of things affecting their individual consciences, the Resolution proposed by Sir William Page Wood would have most completely effected that object. And so entirely did his hon. and learned Friend succeed in persuading the House that such would have been the result, that the hon. Member for the West Riding (Mr. Cobden), voted for it, and against another Resolution for the total abolition of church-rates. But the late Mr. Hume, who was always consistent on this subject, voted against Sir William Page Wood's Resolution, because he said it did not meet the question, which was, whether there should be an Established Church in this country or not. And last year, when a similar measure was under consideration, the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Pellatt) put the matter beyond dispute, for he said—This was no longer a Dissenting question, it was a question of civil politics. * * * It was not the function of the State to teach religion, and he believed it was only by means of the voluntary principle that religion could be effectually diffused."—[3 Hansard, cxxxiv. 427.]Upon the same occasion, the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) said—He had never felt the slightest hostility to the Church as a religious body; but he opposed it as a religious institution, and he doubted very much whether it was of any essential benefit to the country."—[3 Hansard, cxxxiv. 461.]And that hon. Member proceeded to tell the House how much better all those things were done in America upon the voluntary system. Nevertheless, in the face of all those proofs; not with standing the repeated assertions of those representing the dissenting interest of the object and intention, and necessary result of the measure, the hon. Baronet (Sir W. Clay), who year after year brought the question forward, told them, that the measure, so far from being prejudicial, would be advantageous to the Established Church. If the hon. Baronet meant to say it would not materially injure the Established Church as a religious body, he should be disposed to agree with him, because he believed that, as a religious body, the Church of England would always continue to exist in that and in every country where pure religion was esteemed. But if he meant that it would not affect the Established Church 757 as a State Establishment, he entirely differed from him. The theory of the Established Church, as he understood it, was, that the State, selecting one religions body, endowed that body out of the property of the country with funds for its maintenance, for the preservation of its Churches, the maintenance of its Ministers, and the performance of its religious rites. The Church of England was endowed with church-rates and tithes. For those purposes, if church-rates and tithes were taken away, what remained of an Established Church? The hon. Baronet said, there was a great difference between church-rates and tithes, that one was a tax and the other a property. But, he must confess, that he did not see the distinction in principle between them. He granted that tithes were so valuable, that it was very improbable they would be abolished, as was proposed, with the smaller amount of church-rates; but if once they allowed the principle, that the Established Church was not to be kept up by compulsory charges out of the property of the country, it was impossible, in his opinion, to escape from this conclusion, as a logical consequence, that the principle of an Established Church was destroyed. Tithes, no doubt, were certain in amount, because the object was to provide something certain for the maintenance of the clergy. Church-rates were uncertain in amount, because the requirements to which they were applied were uncertain. But, when once the amount was fixed, church-rates were as much a charge on property as tithes, and originally every remedy to secure and recover the one was open to secure and recover the other. This view of the case was not confined to him, the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck) had stated the same principle. He had said—There are many members of the Established Church who concede the principle that Dissenters should not be liable to these compulsory payments for the support of the Church; yet if that principle be acted upon and these compulsory payments are abolished, I should like to know what becomes of the Established Church. According to my notion of an Established Church, if it mean anything, it means a church supported by compulsory payments from all classes of the people.And did the hon. Baronet (Sir W. Clay) think it would be beneficial to the Church thus to abandon the principle of an Established Church, or that it would not be prejudicial to her to have to contend for the future, not for an intelligible and well 758 defined principle, but merely for how much, or how little of the property with which she was originally endowed, she should be permitted to retain for her maintenance. The question of whether the Established Church should be preserved, or whether the voluntary principle should be introduced into this country, was one of the very greatest importance. He was not there to question the right of those who dissented from the Established Church, or who considered a State Establishment an evil, by every legal and constitutional means, to get rid of the Church Establishment. The Church Establishment was an institution of the country, supported like any other institution by a majority of the people; a majority of the people might alter that, as they might alter every institution which now existed in the country. But whilst he was willing to grant to those opposed to him the most free use of their conscientious objections, he claimed the same right to express the conscientious opinion at which, after mature and anxious consideration, he had arrived, namely, that any measure which materially affected or injured the Established Church would be a measure of unmitigated evil, and of most prejudicial consequences to the best interests of the country. It had been said, that the Church had not done its duty—that it had not provided accommodation for the increased population of large towns—that it had, therefore, become useless, and had outlived its object—and that it ought to be abolished. Now let it be considered what was the duty of the Church in that respect. He challenged any Gentleman to point out by what law, out of what property, out of what funds, it was the duty of the Established Church to provide increased church accommodation. He said there was no law which compelled, or even permitted the Church to do so, and that there was no property which could be applied to the purpose, for every one knew church-rates were simply for repairs, and that for building new churches such rates would be illegal and informal. The Census returns furnish some figures, not immaterial to be considered on this subject. By these returns, in which the country was divided into town and country parishes, it appeared that country parishes contained something less than 9,000 000, and town parishes something more than 9,000,000 of people. The population in country parishes had not increased in the same extraordinary 759 way as the population in large towns. In the country parishes, where the piety of our forefathers had erected churches far beyond the wants of the people of their age, there were 10,620 churches, with sittings for 3,300,000 people and upwards. In the town parishes there were only 3,457 churches, affording accommodation for 1,995,000 people; so that, in country parishes, where the law applied equally as in town parishes, they found almost enough accommodation provided by the Church as it existed, but in town parishes a great deficiency, owing to there being no property or funds except the voluntary contributions of the people, out of which the Established Church could provide increased accommodation for the increased population. It was calculated, that the accommodation which ought to be afforded for the Religious instruction of the people of this country was sittings, at the rate of 58 per cent of the population. Now, the census returns showed that the accommodation afforded by the Established Church, in conjunction with every other denomination of Christians, in several of the large towns of the kingdom, instead of being 58 per cent fell far short of that amount—for instance, it was, in Birmingham, only 28 per cent; in Finsbury, 29 per cent; in Halifax, 30 per cent; in Liverpool, 31 per cent; in Manchester, 31 per cent; in the Tower Hamlets, 25 per cent.; and in Southwark, 29 per cent. He had shown that there were no funds belonging to the Church to supply the increased accommodation required, and that it was not a question of church-rates, but one entirely of voluntary contribution amongst the people. Here was the voluntary principle, and how had it answered? In these large towns there were persons of enormous wealth who had amassed that wealth by means of the labour of the poorer inhabitants. It would be uncharitable to suppose that those wealthy persons had been so ungenerous and so unjust as to leave the population, by whose labours they had been enabled to acquire their wealth, without the means of religious instruction. In those large towns, there was, also, great religious competition amongst the different religious bodies, and he believed that in those towns the voluntary system had been carried into effect under the most favourable auspices. In those towns the inhabitants had also had the benefit—if benefit it were—of having got rid of church-rates, so that they had the voluntary system in 760 perfection. And yet, after all, what had been the result? He had just shown by figures. He would appeal, therefore, to the House, whether it would be wise to alter a law which had existed for 1,000 years, and substitute for it this voluntary system? He would ask, whether the facts he had adduced were not pregnant with warning, and whether they were not enough to make them pause and think seriously before they sanctioned the proposed alteration. The House of Commons was now asked to get rid of a fund which had hitherto relieved the voluntary contributions of the country to a vast extent, and it was proposed to throw upon the voluntary principle the additional supply of a sum of between 400,000l. and 500,000l. a year. That voluntary fund being avowedly insufficient for its purposes now, it was quite evident that, should the measure pass, it would be much more insufficient. He was not, therefore, disposed to vote for a measure which would have such an unsatisfactory result. They had, however, been referred from time to time to foreign countries, and had been advised to take their policy as an example to be followed. The impropriety of a National Church establishment, and the excellent working of the voluntary system, were fully demonstrated, it was said, by the experience of those foreign countries. Now, he was willing to accept this challenge, and, on looking at the state of things in other countries, he felt warranted in declaring that there was no country upon which the sun shone, the people of which enjoyed anything like the civil and religious liberty which was enjoyed by the people of England. He would ask, then, what there was to induce them to abandon the institutions under which they lived, and to adopt those of foreign countries, where no such privileges or enjoyments existed? He would not discuss how much of the liberties they enjoyed in this country they owed to one institution or to another, but his firm conviction was that there was not one institution which had done more than the Established Church to create, foster, and maintain those habits of free discussion, that feeling of self-reliance, and that independence of thought which had produced and preserved to the country its civil and religious liberties. They had been referred to America, where, it was said, the people enjoyed greater advantages under the voluntary system, than the people of England did under a national esta- 761 blishment. He did not deny that there were in America many good, pious, and Christian-like men, but the question the House was discussing was one which did not refer to individual character as much as it did to national character. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxford shire (Mr. Henley), on a former occasion, told them what was the moral and religious character of the people of England, as compared with that of other countries, and showed what he (Mr. Follett) believed to be the fact, that the moral and religious character of the people of England ranked higher than that of the people of any other country. No doubt there were many pious people in America. But, did not Gentlemen know, that even in New York, the metropolis of the civilisation of that country, there were churches and buildings erected for Divine worship, into which no human creature with one drop of black blood in his veins dared to enter. Was, then, a system, which admitted of such a state of feeling, to be compared with the religious institutions which the people of this country enjoyed? The noble Lord the Member for the City of London (Lord J. Russell) had rightly said, that the Church Establishment in this country did not stand alone, and that it would not fall alone. He felt with the noble Lord that the Church of England was bound up with all the other institutions of the country, and that when once they abolished and destroyed the one, they would at the same time destroy the others. And before the country came to the determination that they would abolish the Established Church, there were many things that would require to be considered, and not among the last or the least would be those statutes which regulated the right and title to the throne of these realms. The question had in his opinion been argued upon too narrow grounds. It had been argued as if it affected only large towns, and as if the rural districts of the country might be overlooked. There were something like 11,000 parishes in the kingdom, and in how many, he would ask, had it become necessary to consider the necessity of abolishing church-rates? Last year the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone) calculated that there were 500 parishes in which the question of church-rates had been raised; but the House had been told by the hon. Baronet who introduced this measure that there were only 762 about 150 parishes which had raised the question. So that Parliament was called upon, for the sake of settling the disputes in 150 parishes, to abolish a law in total disregard of the feelings of the people in nearly 10,000 parishes where it worked fairly and excellently? So much had the subject been considered with reference to large towns only, that the right hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. V. Smith) when discussing it on a former occasion, observed, that he voted for the abolition of church-rates because he considered them not to be properly appropriated. They were intended, he said, to afford church accommodation to the poor, but that he had never seen that to be the result, and he asked those who attended the church in large cities whether they had ever seen the poor attending the churches, adding, that he certainly never had done so. He (Mr. Follett) certainly could not agree in that statement of the right hon. Gentleman. He, however, mentioned the circumstance with a view to show that the right hon. Gentleman totally misunderstood the object of the law which he voted to abolish. The right hon. Gentleman said, that church-rates were intended to afford increased church accommodation in large cities. He (Mr. Follett), on the contrary, maintained that the law imposed no such obligation. The right hon. Gentleman expressed a wish to see more poor people go to church, and yet he supported a Bill which had for one of its objects the introduction of a system of pews, thereby depriving the poor man of the very accommodation the right hon. Gentleman said he was desirous of giving him. Of the 11,000 parishes, a very large proportion of them were in the rural and agricultural districts. How would the proposed alteration of the law operate in those rural parishes? Take the case of a peasant, a poor inhabitant of a country district, who had inherited for 1,000 years (learned antiquaries had traced the existence of the right even before the Norman Conquest), the right to have his parish church repaired, the rites of the Church administered to him, and his priest maintained, out of charges upon the land in his parish. Suppose a person wished to buy the land, he would calculate its value, and then deduct from it the charge for the maintenance of the minister and the repair of the church, and the residue he would pay as purchase-money to the former proprietor of the estate. But, should the proposed law pass, that charge on the land would 763 cease, and the peasant would be deprived of his right. But, it was replied, that he would have a claim on the rich man to subscribe for the support of the parish church. Now, he would ask, would not that be converting what was now a right into mere alms, depending on the will of the rich man? Suppose, however, the peasant went to that rich man to solicit his subscription, might not the rich man say, "I am a Dissenter, and I cannot conscientiously give you anything to support a Church to which I do not belong." Thus would the rich man keep the money in his pocket, and the poor man would be deprived of his right. There were hundreds of thousands of instances of that nature which would be called into existence if the Bill now before the House should be passed into a law. How, then, could it be just to abolish those rates without providing some substitute for them. Again, the measure was stated to be one of expediency—but, let them consider the question of expediency. Year after year the House voted large sums of money for the purpose of building museums and receptacles for articles of science and art, and for the purchase of pictures in large towns. All those things were paid for out of the taxes, and the poor man's pittance was wrung from the dweller in the country districts to provide funds for those purposes, the advantages of which he never enjoyed. And why was all that expenditure made? It was replied, that that appropriation of the public money was just, because it tended to soften the manners and improve the minds of the population of the country, that it turned their attention to intellectual objects, influenced favourably their habits, and made them better members of society. But was not the same principle applicable to the village church and to the poor inhabitants of the country district? Was not the humble village church as likely to soften the manners and improve the minds of the poor within its influence as the handsomest temples erected in the crowded streets of the metropolis for the reception of the productions of art and science? Were not the lessons to be received in that village church day by day, and week by week, more likely to improve the habits of the people, and render them better and happier men than any lesson which could be derived from the best endowed museum in the world? If, then, expediency was a good answer in the one case, as applicable to the millions in the towns, was it 764 not equally applicable in the other case to the millions in the country? He looked upon the law as founded in justice as well as expediency. If, however, there was one thing which would make it desirable that a Bill for abolishing church-rates should pass, it was what the supporters of the measure alleged would be its effect—namely, the putting an end to all religious strife and contention in the country, and the bringing about of peace to the Established Church, and preventing any disputes between the clergy and the people. Those who thought that the Bill would have that good effect were no doubt justified in giving it their support; but did the hon. Baronet (Sir W. Clay) really think that the Bill before the House would bring peace to the Church? On the contrary, he (Mr. Follett) believed it was calculated to do the very reverse. What did the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) tell the House last year? He said, that the contest they were then engaged in commenced just after the Reformation by the Puritans, that it was continued by the Non-conformists, and that it was now being carried on by the Dissenters, and that the real question was whether there should be a State Church or not. He would ask, therefore, whether hon. Members thought, that by getting rid of the question of church-rates the contest would be at an end? Or whether it was not more probable that by surrendering that outwork of the citadel, the enemy would get into the body of the fortress and destroy the whole place? If the Bill of the hon. Baronet were really calculated to bring about these results, no one would more readily support it than himself. There was scarcely anything that he would not accept for the sake of obtaining religious peace; but, unfortunately, he did not think the Bill would effect any such end. The hon. Baronet attempted to reconcile things which could not be reconciled, and to make consistent things which were in their nature inconsistent. There was not a clause in the Bill which was not pregnant with dissensions which would arise in every parish. First of all, he proposed to hand over to the churchwarden the distribution of the fund which was to be contributed alone by Church of England people. But, did not every one know that the churchwarden was appointed by Dissenters as well as by members of the Church of England? Again, in the same section of the Bill it was proposed that the money 765 so contributed should be laid out in support of the church and of the churchyards. Well, every one knew that the churchyards were used by Dissenters as well as by Churchmen. As the Bill stood, they would hand over to the vestry the allotting of the pews and the fixing of the rents. The vestry was composed of Dissenters as well as the members of the Church, and yet, they were to have the power of appropriating the pews and fixing the rents. Nothing in his mind could be more objectionable. The hon. Baronet told them, however, that he had withdrawn some of the clauses of his Bill, and proposed to alter others, and there was some difficulty, therefore, in knowing what Bill they were discussing. But if anything like the Bill on the table of the House passed into a law, there would not be a parish in the kingdom in which religious dissensions would not be introduced. He was not opposed to any Amendment of the law which would prevent those scandals which had arisen in certain towns. Anything which would amend the law and get rid of those unseemly scenes he was willing to support. But he would not support a Bill to abolish the law altogether, and without providing some sufficient substitute for those rates. The law as it at present stood, was, in his opinion, better than that. He believed with the noble Lord the Member for the City of London, that the existing law relating to church-rates was capable of amendment, and that it might be amended to the satisfaction of all reasonable parties. He believed that the Established Church never was so ready as at that moment to enter into fair arrangements for remedying any evil that existed. And he called upon the noble Lord the Member for the City of London to redeem the pledge he made to the House and to the country last year, when he said that he would amend the law, and prevent the consequences which must necessarily happen should the present Bill be passed. And feeling that he could not support the Bill either as a measure of justice or of expediency, he begged to move that the House go into Committee on the Bill that day three months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon this day three months, resolve itself into the said Committee," instead thereof.766
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, he thought it was to be regretted that his hon. and learned Friend should resist their going into Committee on the Bill. The House had confirmed the principle of the Bill; in other words, the House had sanctioned the principle of the abolition of church-rates; and, when he looked to the nature of the question, and to the feeling to which the constant agitation of the subject had necessarily given rise, he could not but think that the House ought to be allowed to go into Committee to see whether it was possible to find a solution of that most difficult and embarrassing question, He did not believe that either his hon. and learned Friend, or the other advocates of church-rates, could flatter themselves that the question of maintaining those rates was anything more than one of time. When they saw that at least one-third—he might say one-half—of the population of the country were Dissenters, and when they knew that to every Dissenter the church-rates were an intolerable grievance, and the imposition of which was felt to be a most galling injustice, and was known to be a constant source of heartburning, it was impossible to suppose that the question could be allowed to sink and pass away. The opponents of the measure would have it agitated year after year, and more especially now that the House had sanctioned the principle of a Bill for the abolition of church-rates. What, then, would be the consequence of deferring the proposed measure? It would tend to produce discord between the two great divisions of the population. Surely, then, it would be infinitely better to avail themselves of any opportunity, if possible, to settle the question rather than defer it. The Dissenters felt that, to be called upon to pay church-rates, was an act of unmitigated injustice; and who could deny that, to compel a man to pay for a church to which he did not belong, and for the support of a worship in which his religious feelings did not allow him to participate, was not, upon the face of it, a most serious and dangerous proceeding? And what was to prevent Parliament from relieving them from such an injustice? It was said, "Oh, you have acquired your property subject to this impost; you knew that you would have to pay a tax, and which, although a personal tax, was a tax in respect of pro- 767 perty." He was afraid that that argument would not silence the Dissenter. He would tell you that, at the time when church-rates first became a part of the institutions of the country, the Church comprehended and embraced the whole body of the population, and that, therefore, it was perfectly reasonable that the whole population should contribute towards the maintenance of the fabric of the parish church; but he would also tell you that that state of things had long ceased to exist, and that now one-half of the population no longer partook of the benefit of the church. He would likewise tell you that, on the other hand, a great change had taken place in the nature of the property of the country, and that, while the congregations of the different parishes had, by reason of dissent, diminished, or, at all events, had but little increased, the value of the land from which the rates were raised had doubled itself. And he would furthermore tell you, that the exaction of these rates was unjust, because, while you continued to raise them from the whole of the property of the country, you did not appropriate them to the use of the whole population of the country, but only to the use of a section of that population. Those were the arguments which the Dissenters would urge against the proposition for continuing those rates. He would not say that the arguments were conclusive, but they were quite strong enough to afford a plausible ground to support a proposition for abating church-rates. But what he particularly sought to urge upon his hon. and learned Friend was, that it was impossible to hope that anything that could be said in support of church-rates, would reconcile Dissenters to the payment of them. His hon. and learned Friend appeared to argue the question as if there was involved in it the existence of the Church of England itself. Now, he did not think the question at all affected the security and safety of the Church. It had been said that those who had supported the measure were striking a blow at the superiority of the Church, and that it was the duty of Parliament to maintain that superiority. He could not, however, for a moment conceive that the superiority of the Church was in any way involved in the question. The Church possessed princely revenues, secured to it in the safest possible form. The great estates of the bishops had the amplest protection that Parliament could give. The 768 dignitaries of the Church ranked with the nobles of the land, and formed a part of the Legislature of the country. Could anybody, then, suppose that the superiority of the Church, thus constituted, and with such means, rested at all upon such a slight foundation as that of church-rates? He could not bring himself to view it in that light. On the contrary, he thought he could not do an act which would more effectually maintain the Church in its present high position than by supporting a measure which would remove from it an evil under which it had long laboured, and by which its usefulness had been seriously impaired. Was it worth while, he would ask, for the sake of the small amount of church-rates, which, in the whole kingdom, did not exceed 300,000l., to keep up a constant state of discord and disunion? He fully agreed that it would be a lamentable result if the abolition of the impost would cause churches to be allowed to decay, and, if there was any probability of such a result, he would hesitate to assent to a measure which would abolish church-rates. But he could not believe in that result when he saw the great efforts which were made by all religious denominations for the maintenance of their places of worship and the celebration of their rites. He agreed that churches ought to be maintained, not solely on account of their necessity for the purposes of religious worship, but because they were hallowed by the holiest and tenderest feelings of the people of England. It was for that very reason, however, that he disbelieved in the probability of the churches being allowed to fall into ruin if church-rates should be abolished. The hon. and learned Gentleman had argued against the voluntary principle as less efficacious than taxation, and if all were agreed in religious opinion there would be no necessity of getting rid of church-rates. But the House must remember it had to deal justly with Dissenters as well as with members of the Church of England, and the question before it was how that could best be done. He repeated that he would not consent to the abolition of church-rates if it would lead to the decay of the churches, but he maintained that such a suggestion was a gross libel upon the members of the Church of England. He regarded the question not only as a legislator, but also as a lawyer, and could not help saying he felt ashamed of the present state of the law relating to the subject. The law at pre- 769 sent imposed on every parish the obligation to tax itself for the maintenance of the fabric of the Church, and for the celebration of divine worship, but what was the only means of enforcing that obligation? The only means of enforcing the obligation was in the Ecclesiastical Courts, and the non-performance of the obligation could only be visited with an ecclesiastical penalty. Even to impose the tax at all it was necessary that a majority of the parishioners should concur, without which the tax could not be levied; but the majority against the rate, as well as the minority in its favour, were still under the obligation of the law, and were subject to the ecclesiastical penalties, which were such as Dissenters did not care a rush about, and which many members of the Church itself equally disregarded. Thus there was a law which imposed an obligation, whilst there were no means of enforcing it. In most of the large towns the law was a dead letter, and, worse than that, had become a mockery and an absurdity. He thought that if the legal obligation were removed, many persons, members of the Church of England, who now sheltered their meanness under the obligation of the law, could not in common decency refuse to contribute to the maintenance of the fabric of their Church. The hon. and learned Gentleman, who moved the Amendment, had admitted the law should be amended, but had not stated in what way. The hon. and learned Gentleman would, perhaps, suggest that a minority might make a church-rate, but that was an Amendment which the House was not likely to adopt. All must agree that the existing state of things must be changed, and yet when the hon. Baronet the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Sir W. Clay), brought in a Bill with that object, hon. Members opposite took objections and cavilled at clauses being withdrawn, and complained that they did not know what they were discussing. But the hon. Member who introduced the Bill had on a former stage, proposed to go into Committee pro formâ, in order that the Bill might be reprinted, but that course had been resisted by hon. Gentlemen opposite. The clauses relating to pew-rents, which he (the Attorney General) admitted were objectionable, had been removed, and the whole machinery of the Bill had been improved. He said again, that the question was one which must be settled soon, and all that the opponents of the measure could hope 770 to gain was a little delay. The Dissenters, they might be assured, would not rest quiescent under the tax. The House had sanctioned their views, and it was therefore desirable to go into Committee upon the Bill, and endeavour to find some satisfactory means of settling the much-vexed question. There was no question of the superiority of the Church, no question of pulling down that venerable pile, so dear to the people of the country; and it was not fair to impute to those who desired to get rid of an unjust and objectionable impost any desire to assail the Church or her just rights. He believed that Dissenters, having a grievance, as they considered, were anxious to get rid of that grievance, but were desirous to see harmony and good feeling prevail among all classes, without wishing to do aught that would tend to diminish the strength of one of the greatest institutions which had ever existed in the country.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, the hon. and learned Attorney General had lectured the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Follett) who moved the Amendment, for interfering at the present stage, but he (Lord J. Manners) thought that the present question was one of sufficient importance to justify his hon. and learned Friend in the course he had taken. The Attorney General had dwelt upon church-rates as an intolerable grievance upon Dissenters, and urged, therefore, that the House ought to listen to the particular request for the removal of that grievance. But if those were the sentiments of the hon. and learned Gentleman (the Attorney General), how came it to pass that year after year had elapsed without the Government, which in all its combinations and mutations had had the assistance of the hon. and learned Gentleman's talents, having legislated upon the very subject which had so moved the indignation of their Attorney General? Did it not occur to the hon. and learned Gentleman that the very colleague who sat next him during the delivery of his speech was the particular gentleman who on a former occasion made the most able and vigorous defence of the very system of church-rates which had now attracted the denunciations of the hon. and learned Gentleman? Did not the Attorney General recollect that the noble Lord the Prime Minister not only refused to legislate, but gave the House to understand that legislation upon the subject was impracticable? The hon. and learned Gentleman had point- 771 ed out evils and inconsistencies attaching to the present state of the law, but had never suggested to the Government, whose legal organ he was, the necessity of applying a remedy for those evils. Instead of so doing, he invited the House to enter loosely upon some investigation in Committee, in order to see whether, by striking out one part of the Bill, and inserting another of which no one had heard until two days since, something could not be done which would be satisfactory to the minds of the dissenting Members of the Committee. He (Lord J. Manners) protested against such a proceeding on the part of the Government. No one was more willing to relieve the consciences of others than he was, and it was because he regarded the present measure as imposing fresh grievances on conscience, imposing a new and hateful tax on the poor church people of England, and ousting the poor from their long-established rights, that he gave the Bill his most strenuous opposition. The House was now told that the hon. Member who introduced the Bill was willing to sacrifice one-half of it; but what could they think of a measure so lightly introduced, and whose provisions were so inconsiderately framed? The part of the Bill which it was now announced was to be given up was the part upon which the hon. Baronet (Sir W. Clay) most dwelt in introducing the measure. The hon. Baronet had admitted it would be impossible to ask the Church to consent to the abolition of church-rates without providing some substitute secured by law; and that substitute he proposed to adopt in the shape of pew-rents. And now the clauses relating to that part of the subject had been, he was given to understand, withdrawn. But, taking the Bill as it stood, what was the grievance which Dissenters complained of? It was that, as they dissented conscientiously from the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England, they ought not to be called upon to maintain her fabrics and defray the expense of celebrating her services. That was the grievance with which the Bill was intended to deal; but, from the preamble down to the last clause, not one word of mention of that grievance could be found, nor any provision tending to remedy that grievance. He therefore charged against the Bill that the preamble raised a false issue, and the clauses went to apply an unjustifiable remedy for a grievance which might be otherwise removed without prejudice to the reli- 772 gious convictions of any class of religionists. The preamble stated—Whereas church-rates have for some years ceased to be made or collected in many parishes, by reason of the opposition thereto, and in many other parishes where church-rates have been made the levying thereof has given rise to litigation and ill-feeling.Thus litigation, and not conscience, was the reason for legislating. He would remark that church-rates were not the only subject upon which litigation arose. The police force had just now incurred a certain amount of ill-feeling and litigation, but no one on that account would think of proposing the abolition of police-rates. The preamble ought to run, "Whereas the imposition of church-rates is a grievance to the consciences of those who dissent from the doctrine and discipline of the Church, be it enacted that for the future church-rates shall not be levied from those who so dissent." [Sir J. SHELLEY: Hear, hear!] The hon. Member for Westminster cheered that suggestion, but such was not the object of the Bill before the House. It was said that provision could be added in Committee, but then the Bill would be completely altered. He must remind hon. Members opposite that when a remedy of the description he had mentioned was proposed it was indignantly scouted by those very gentlemen who had induced the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets to bring in the objectionable Bill they were then discussing. The Bill, instead of exempting from payment of church-rates all those who dissented from the Church, actually forbade all church people, whether they liked it or not, from paying rates for the preservation of their church and the solemnisation of its rites. When the proposal was made to exempt Dissenters from payment of church-rates it was rejected because it would wound their pride and lower their dignity by such an exemption. Now, pride and dignity were all very well in proper places, although the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford (Mr. Gladstone) had some time ago adduced weighty and ingenious reasons to show that pride in all shapes was bad and unchristian; but pride and dignity on the part of Dissenters who asked to be relieved from what they considered an intolerable grievance were arguments totally misplaced, especially when they proposed to impose a new and odious tax on their poor neighbours belonging to the Church. If the House were to consent to go into 773 Committee upon the understanding that the clauses relating to pew-rents were to be omitted, they would have no security that the Gentlemen who acted with the hon. Baronet would permit him to withdraw them. The Attorney General had said that for the sake of peace and good-will in parishes it was necessary to make the concession embodied in the Bill; but he (Lord J. Manners) would refer the hon. and learned Gentleman to the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe), who had performed two years since a meritorious act in procuring the rejection of a Bill which sought to impose pew-rents upon the parish of Stoke Newington. The hon. Member for Finsbury, who was well versed in the origin and history of Chartism, could also inform the House of a most remarkable phase of that movement closely connected with the present subject. On one Sunday in April, 1848, the cathedral at Norwich, all the churches and even the dissenting chapels at Leicester, Lough-borough, and other places were occupied by Chartists, who regarded the system of pew-rents as an intolerable injustice, which they would no longer permit to exist. How, then, could the Bill before the House be expected to have the effect of promoting peace and good-will? A good deal might be said in favour of retaining church-rates as a long-established charge, but what could be said of an impost of pew-rents upon two-thirds of the seats in all the churches of the kingdom, except that it was in direct violation of the apostolic injunction of St. James? It was on account of the reasons he had assigned, and not because he objected to relieve the consciences of Dissenters, that he felt bound cordially to support the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Bridgewater.
§ SIR WILLIAM SOMERVILLE
said, that the hon. and learned Member for Bridgewater (Mr. Follett) had argued that the effect of the Bill would be to sap the foundation of the Church of England. From that opinion he totally dissented. The Church of England was now the united Church of England and Ireland. He thought when he came down to the House that they would have gone into Committee on the Bill, but as the principle of the question was again brought under discussion in a very temperate and conciliatory speech, he trusted he would be excused for making a few remarks. He denied that there was any analogy between the existence of the monarchy 774 and the existence of church-rates. He should hope that the monarchy rested on some surer ground than church-rates did. Church-rates had been abolished in Ireland, but had the prediction that that Church would fall to the ground if those rates were repealed been verified by the results? On the contrary, he contended that the abolition of church-rates in Ireland had tended greatly to promote the stability and increase the usefulness of the Church in Ireland. If this had been the result in Ireland of the abolition of the rate, why should it be supposed that a different result would follow from a similar step in England. The only other objection of any force urged against the Bill was, that the churches would not be maintained but would be allowed to go to ruin. He did not think it at all likely that the members of the Church of England—who were bound to their churches by so many ties, and around which the remains of their ancestors and relatives reposed—would allow the edifices to fall into decay. The whole of that argument went to show the impossibility of the members of the Church ever allowing the fabrics of the Church to fall. Looking at the great number of churches erected within the last few years by the voluntary efforts of members of the Established Church, was it possible to suppose that voluntary liberality would not provide for their decent maintenance and the due performance of religious worship therein? The Dissenters also had erected many places of worship, and not only provided for their maintenance, but for the support of the clergymen. A still poorer population, the Roman Catholics of Ireland, contrived also to do as much; they supported their priests, and provided for the celebration of a pompous and costly ritual, and of several cathedrals in which it was celebrated. It was impossible that the Protestants of England so much wealthier as they were, should be unequal to make due provision for the objects embraced by the Bill. Believing that the measure would tend to the promotion and increase of harmony and goodwill between the established and dissenting communities, and that it would be a bond of union and friendly feeling between them, he should give his cordial support to the Bill.
§ MR. E. BALL
said, he fully concurred in the sentiments expressed by the hon. Gentleman who moved the Amendment, that the overthrow of the Church of England would be a great religious, moral, and 775 social calamity to the country. Ever since he had sat in that House his unvarying declaration had been that he was fully satisfied of the importance of maintaining the Church of England; but he was surprised that, in spite of all that had been said upon that subject, hon. Members should still continue to treat it merely as a political question. If it were not a religious question, how was it that so many men sincerely attached to the Church of England united with the Dissenters in endeavouring to obtain the abolition of church-rates, on the ground that it would introduce a more kindly feeling between Churchmen and Dissenters? The hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Follett) had asked how it was that the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell), being a Liberal, and having led the Dissenting body to suppose that he was an advocate of the measure, could come forward and declare that the destruction of the Church would be the destruction of the aristocracy, and the destruction of the aristocracy the ruin of the Crown, and that therefore on church-rates rested the maintenance of Church and State and Sovereign. He (Mr. Ball) was not there to reconcile the inconsistencies of the noble Lord; but he was not astonished at that observation, because his conduct was so remarkably inconsistent not only on that subject, but on everything else. The hon. and learned Gentleman had referred to the want of religious instruction in the country, estimating that about 30 per cent of the population only received it; but for the efforts of the Dissenters it would probably be 20 instead of 30 per cent, and instead of the removal of church-rates decreasing that supply, it had been proved that in every case where they had been abolished the supply of religious instruction had been increased. He denied that the concession would create a demand for further concessions. The hon. and learned Gentleman also said the removal of the church-rates would very much diminish the supplies of religious accommodation for the spiritual wants of the country. He believed, on the contrary, the fact to be where the levy of chuch-rates had been suspended, voluntary liberality had considerably increased, and the supply of religious accommodation had been greatly extended. By the course sought to be adopted they would make the Church of England an opponent to the popular views and feelings, whereas their great object ought to be to root it firmly in the hearts and affections of the people. 776 He was not aware of a single instance where church-rates had been abandoned, and an appeal made to voluntary liberality to replace them, in which the Dissenters of the locality had not cordially, nobly, and enthusiastically come forward to contribute in aid of the object of maintaining the fabric of the Church. He conceived that the passing of the Bill would be one of the most beneficial measures that could be adopted for the social interests of the community.
§ MR. ROBERT PHILLIMORE
said, he hoped that he should not subject himself to the censure cast by the hon. Gentleman who had last spoken upon those who delayed the passing of this measure by unnecessary speaking, (a censure from which some people might think the hon. Gentleman himself was not wholly free,) if he offered some observations to the House upon the important subject now before them. His (Mr. R. Phillimore's) chief objection to the present measure was that it was not an honest one. It purported to be a Bill for the relief of Dissenters from the payment of church-rates, at least, all the arguments in favour of it had proceeded on that supposition. But, in reality, it was not only a measure to release all persons, Churchmen as well as Dissenters, from the obligation which the law cast upon them of supporting the fabric of the Church, and maintaining the celebration of the rites and ceremonies of the established religion; but it was also a measure which, when examined into, did, or endeavoured to do, an act of positive injustice, inasmuch as the practical effect of it would be to throw exclusively upon Churchmen the burthen of supporting the church, while it preserved to Dissenters all the privileges with respect to the rites of the church, which, in common with Churchmen, they now possess. Nevertheless, his hon. and learned Friend, the Attorney-General, had supported the Bill as being a measure for the relief of the tender consciences of the Dissenters alone, but he was sorry to say that there were circumstances arising out of the conduct of a certain portion of the Dissenters with respect to this question of church-rates, which demonstrated that hon. Members who had objected to this Bill, as being a political rather than a religious measure, had spoken with perfect candour and fairness. It could not be denied by any one who had looked into the publications and listened to the speeches of a certain portion of the Dissenters upon this 777 subject, that it was not upon the ground of injury done to their consciences that they objected to the payment of church-rates. In these speeches and these publications—and he alluded more particularly to the doctrines contained in a paper called the Nonconformist, edited, he believed, by the hon. Member for Rochdale, (Mr. Miall)—would be found a frank admission that these Dissenters looked forward to the time when there would be a partition of all the endowments of the Church, among all sects of religionists in the State; they candidly awowed that this was their object, and they accepted the present measure merely as a stepping-stone towards the attainment of their greater object. Such, however, was not his object, and he should therefore pause before he assented to this measure. Reference had been made in this, as in other debates, to a measure which he (Mr. R. Phillimore) had had the honour of introducing into the House, and which had, at the time, met with no inconsiderable support. The object of that measure had not been, as the hon. Baronet, the Member for the Tower Hamlets (Sir W. Clay) had erroneously represented it to be, to compel Dissenters to make a particular statement of the form of their religious belief. No such notion had ever entered into his (Mr. R. Phillimore's) head, or was it to be found in his Bill. He (Mr. Phillimore) had provided by that Bill that any person, simply alleging himself to be a Dissenter, and claiming exemption upon that ground from the payment of church-rate, should be forthwith relieved from it; that he (Mr. Phillimore) had also provided that such Dissenter, having refused the church-rate, should not be entitled to the benefit of the Church rites. That was a very different measure from one which released indiscriminately all persons from payment of church-rates; and, above all, it was a very different measure from one which, giving the benefit to two parties, threw the entire burthen upon one; and here he (Mr. R. Phillimore) begged to call the attention of the House, and of hon. Members who were Dissenters, especially, to the very awkward dilemma in which Dissenters generally were placed by the conduct of a certain portion of their body, whereby his (Mr. R. Phillimore's) Bill for the relief of Dissenters had been rejected. The dilemma was this; if the churches were, as this class of Dissenters allege, national fabrics, and for everybody's use, why, then, there was no injury done to 778 Dissenters by compelling them to contribute to the maintenance of these fabrics. If, on the other hand, these churches were the exclusive property of, and only used by, a certain religious sect, as they considered the Church of England, why, then, surely, all reasonable demands were satisfied by relieving Dissenters from the payment of the rate, upon their undertaking to forego the rite. Surely, as far as conscience was concerned, no ground of complaint would remain; surely it was monstrous to hold this language, "our conscience forbids us to support a Church of whose forms and ministrations we disapprove, therefore we refuse to pay a church-rate; but, nevertheless, we claim the right of availing ourselves of those forms and ministrations whenever we think proper." He (Mr. R. Phillimore) would offer to the House an illustration, afforded by a very recent debate upon a private Bill, of the flagrant unfairness of the position which a certain portion of the Dissenters now sought to occupy. Early in this Session, the Great Northern Railway Company proposed to construct a church and schools near Doncaster, to be paid for out of the general funds of the company, but it was opposed on all sides of the House, although it was urged that two-thirds of the shareholders were in favour of the proposition, and that the service was to be conducted according to the forms and ceremonies of the Church of England, to which the great majority of the shareholders belonged. It was rejected, however, because it was pointed out, and especially by the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley) that, although it might be quite proper that the members of the Church of England should erect such a fabric and provide for its maintenance by voluntary contribution, yet the House of Commons could not sanction so monstrous a doctrine as that the funds of the whole company, some of whom might be Dissenters, should be applied to the purposes of the Church of England. Well, this argument prevailed. But now, what was the law with respect to the churches so built?—and he prayed the attention of the House to it. Why, the law was this, that into this church built so exclusively by the funds of Churchmen, every Dissenter in the district had a right to enter, had a right to demand a seat, and performance, on his behalf, of the ministrations of the Church; nay more, was actually empower- 779 ed by the existing law to inflict a highly penal sentence upon the clergyman of that Church if he refused to him the benefit of every rite which any Churchman and subscriber might demand. Talk of injustice to Dissenters! was not this a grievous wrong inflicted upon Churchmen?—and yet the present measure before the House would continue to sanction the infliction of this wrong, which, perhaps, indeed, it had never contemplated, and of which he was sure the House was not aware. When he heard it said that the passage of this measure ought not to be delayed throughout the House, he must express his opinion that there could hardly be a question upon which the House of Commons ought to deliberate with more patience and earnestness than this. Let the House look at the magnitude of the question. How had it been treated by the noble Lord the Member for the city of London? Why he, considered by a powerful party in this House as one of the first Ministers and greatest statesmen of the country, the head of the Liberal party, and a man adored by his many followers on that side of the House, had only last year protested, in the most solemn manner, against the measure as tending to the subversion of one of the principal institutions of the State, the Establishment of the Church. But there was another view of the magnitude of the question. He held in his hand a return of the amount of rates refused and contested in the various parishes, which had been procured at the instance of a Committee of Convocation, and he found that out of 9,904 parishes there were only 314 in which rates had been refused, and 225 in which they had been contested, or something like 4 per cent. in the one case, and 7 per cent in the other. He did not think that they ought, in consequence of so small a minority as that, to give up a system so long maintained as the present, and which had tended to the support of the Church in all the rural parishes in the country. He quite agreed to the remark which had been made, that it would be a libel upon Churchmen to say that, but for church-rates, they would allow the churches to crumble into ruins. He agreed also with much that had been said respecting the voluntary contributions of late years; but he thought that a most unfair argument was built upon this fact. Because, it was said, you Churchmen have done so much beyond what the law required for the support of your churches, therefore we will 780 take away from you even that inadequate assistance which the law now affords. And let the House not for a moment forget that, in spite of all this aid, both legal and voluntary, the spiritual destitution of portions of the country (the blame of which we must all, according to our different spheres and abilities, he was afraid, bear) was of the most appalling character. He did not believe, indeed, that the existence of the Church in this country was bound up in the maintenance of church-rates, but he reminded the House that it was a privilege which the Church of England had enjoyed nearly coeval with the establishment of Christianity in this country, and that up to a few years ago no complaint whatever was made upon the subject. He agreed with the Attorney-General as to the present disgraceful state of the law on this subject; but for that state he conceived that the House of Lords was in some degree responsible for their decision in the "Braintree case;" for he agreed that though there might be a theoretical remedy in the law when a church-rate was refused, yet, practically, it came to this, that means of enforcement were so odious, or at least so little in accordance with the feelings of the age, that no well-wisher, either to the Church or the State, would recommend their adoption. He could not, however, dismiss this part of the subject, without observing that if the majority of a parish was composed of Dissenters, they could, after the decision in the "Braintree case," prevent the infliction of a rate, and, therefore, all grievance was taken away from them in that particular case. The right hon. Member for Canterbury (Sir W. Somerville), had spoken of the existing state of Ireland with respect to church-rates; but there was another country in which the state of the law upon this subject would, if this measure passed into a law, be forced upon the attention of Parliament. He meant Scotland. For he could not imagine how they could reconcile the total abolition of church-rates on this side of the Tweed, and maintain the law, as it present existed, on the north side of that river. The imposition in Scotland of what was practically a church-rate, had not been complained of, though the circumstances under which it was paid were ten times more oppressive than in England. The fact was, that the Episcopalian Church in Scotland, which was a Dissenting body with relation to the Establishment in that country, had 781 always been a long-suffering, loyal, uncomplaining, Church. She had no agitators to proclaim her grievances. She did not now complain, she was willing to bear the burden which the State and the law of the land had laid upon her, of contributing her rate to the Establishment; but if the Dissenters in England were to be relieved, what pretence could there be for continuing the burden upon the Dissenters of Scotland. He was sure that the majority of the House would learn with amazement the existing state of the law with respect to the compulsory support of the Presbyterian Church, for it was idle to attempt to draw any difference between an assessment imposed directly upon property, as in Scotland, and a rate imposed upon property ratione personœ, as in England. The practical result was the same in both cases. Now, what was the law in Scotland? Why, there the law imposed the burden of repair of church and manse upon proprietors of lands according to their valued rents. The mode of enforcement was, that eight or ten ministers, proprio motu, ordered plans, &c, ordained by a decree of their court, and the heritors assessed themselves for the amount ordered by the Presbytery. The majority of rate-payers could not practically dissent; and the minority could not even theoretically dissent. Churches were rebuilt on the scale of accommodation for two-thirds of all persons above twelve years old, without reference to their religious belief; the members of the Established Church by the last census being not more than one-third of the population. Three-fifths of the property belonged to Episcopalians. With respect to the new machinery which it was proposed to introduce into our ecclesiastical system by this Bill, and especially that part which related to pew-rents, he (Mr. Phillimore) must emphatically repeat his entire disapprobation of all these clauses. The hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets has said, that the poor had had but a barren right in the Church, so far as London was concerned, inasmuch as the floor of the London churches was already occupied by the closed seats of the rich. There was, unhappily, much truth in this; but it was an evil to be got rid of, not perpetuated, and above all, not to be introduced into our rural parishes, in which it was comparatively unknown, and in which, at all events, it was fast disappearing. And now, with respect to those clauses which prescribe the mode by which voluntary contributions 782 should be collected and disposed of, a grave question of principle, which appeared to have escaped the notice of the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets, immediately presented itself. So long as the law imposed upon him (Mr. Phillimore), a tax or rate in common with his fellow-citizens, it had a perfect right to regulate the assessment and disposal of the funds raised by it; but when it came to a question of free-offering, he denied that the law had any such right. By what title did the hon. Member for the Tower Hamlets, or the House of Commons, or the Legislature, interfere with the manner in which he (Mr. Phillimore) thought proper to dispose of his private alms? He should like to have this question answered. In conclusion, he would observe, that he did not say that he would not support a measure for the abolition of church-rates, if he were satisfied it would do justice equally to Churchmen and Dissenters, and dry up one source of the unhappy differences subsisting between them; but inasmuch as they were told that the present measure would not be considered final by the Dissenters, but only as an instalment of their rights, and inasmuch as it was pregnant with the gross injustice of throwing upon a few Churchmen the entire burden of supporting the fabric and ministrations of the Church—for such would be the practical effect of voluntary contributions—while it preserved to the Dissenter the full power of benefiting by the Church, and those rites towards which he was to contribute nothing—inasmuch as this was the substance of the measure before them, he (Mr. Phillimore), both as a Churchman and as an honest man, should give it his opposition.
§ MR. C. FORSTER
said, he believed that he represented the feeling of many excellent and pious ministers of the Church of England, when he stated that they were anxious that Parliament should extirpate that root of bitterness, church-rates. In Walsall, which he represented, there had been no church-rates for the last fifteen years. Churchmen and Dissenters had anticipated the measure now before the House, and had joined to repudiate the evil. All the animosities and heartburnings of former years had been removed, and he believed that there was no town in England where there was less sectarian bitterness than in Walsall. He well recollected that it had been continually necessary to call in the assistance of the police 783 for the collection of the impost; but since its discontinuance there had been a perfect cessation of heartburnings and disaffection. It was not to be supposed that the members of the Church, if church-rates were abolished, would suffer fabrics which had been for centuries entwined with the most solemn associations and the deepest affections, to fall to decay for want of voluntary support, merely because they no longer possessed the power of extorting them by force of law from their dissenting fellow-subjects. Rather it might be anticipated that the abolition of church-rates would have the effect of rousing the dormant energies of the Church, and placing her in that position which she ought to occupy in the hearts of her children. He trusted that the Bill would not be added to the list of measures to be deferred to the conclusion of the war.
§ MR. WIGRAM
said, the reason which actuated him in voting against going into Committee on the Bill was the very reason which the Attorney General had given in favour of the Committee—namely, that the present state of the law respecting church-rates was a disgrace to our institutions. In that observation he entirely agreed. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that if there were a public question, which upon every ground called for the interposition of Parliament in order to its settlement that was the question. In that observation also he entirely agreed; and he believed that if the wish on the other side of the House was strong to get the question settled, that wish was on his (the Opposition) side of the House probably yet stronger, for he had received intimations from hon. Members right and left of him of their anxiety and desire to see the question settled, and the minds of men no longer disturbed regarding it. But he should oppose the Motion for the House to go into Committee, because the Bill, so far from having a tendency to settle, or holding out the hope or prospect of settling the question, would have the direct tendency of perpetuating and augmenting agitation upon the subject. The Bill proposed the total abolition of church-rates throughout the rural districts, where no one ventured to say they were onerous. It might serve the purpose of keeping alive the question as a means of Parliamentary agitation, but settle the question it would not; for it would have no chance of passing the other House of Parliament within the next twenty-five years. If any feasible Bill 784 were brought in to settle church-rates, he (Mr. Wigram) would have no objection to it whatever; but the Bill now before the House he felt certain would not have that effect. The abolition of church-rates might possibly be effected without difficulty in large towns; but once abolished in rural districts, the fabric of the parish churches would in a few years be found to fall into decay. Great stress was laid upon what might be accomplished by voluntary efforts; but he confessed that he did not place so much reliance upon those efforts as some hon. Gentlemen appeared to do. He would take the case of the Tower Hamlets for example, and he would say that the state of that borough was a disgrace to the country. Taking the Church of England and the Dissenters together, their joint efforts did not afford accommodation for 25 per cent of the population. That was the result of the voluntary system in a case of that kind, and it was equally ineffective for the purposes of education; because were it not that Parliament came forward annually with grants of money in aid, the education of the people would be utterly unworthy of the country. The hon. Baronet the Member for Canterbury (Sir W. Somerville) had referred to the case of Ireland; but it must be remembered that we had not relied upon voluntary contributions there, the income of ten bishoprics having been converted into a fund for the support of the churches. Upon a review of the whole case, he was convinced that the notion that voluntary subscriptions would stand in the place of church-rates as the means of supporting the churches throughout the country was a delusion. Church-rates were really and truly a charge upon the land, and he had recently heard of a case in which the landlord had introduced a clause into his leases, providing that if pending the lease church-rates should be abolished a higher rent should be paid for the land. That was a perfectly wise and prudent provision, but it proved his proposition that church-rates were a burden upon the land; and he wanted to know, therefore, on the part of the poor man, to whom the parish church was everything, why Parliament was to take that money which was now the property of the poor in order to make a present of it to the landlords of the country? The Bill before the House was not one of a final character; it did not look to the consequences which might follow, and it was not calculated to give satisfaction to the country 785 or to secure the continuance of those advantages which we now possessed in the maintenance of the church of every parish throughout the country. He agreed with his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Follett) that the question was one of the most important that could be entertained by Parliament, as regarded the principle it sought to establish—namely, to deal with property vested in the Church by an Act of the Legislature. It would be impossible to make a distinction between that and other forms of church property, and once the wolf was allowed to enter the fold, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to drive him back. Once the principle was admitted it would be sought to apply it to other kinds of church property. He preferred, if an assault was to be made on the Church, that it should be made openly. He believed this to be a covert assault on the Church, and he, therefore, for the reasons he had assigned, should give the Bill every possible opposition. The Government of the country were in a position to solve the difficulties of the case if they chose. Nothing but mischief could come of the agitation of the question by private Members, and it was the duty of the Government to deal with it.
§ MR. GRANVILLE VERNON
said, he saw with surprise nobody except the President of the Board of Control and a Lord of the Treasury on the Treasury benches on such an important discussion, when he remembered that the Government had given a positive pledge to settle the question. He thought that some means might be devised whereby Dissenters should be relieved from the compulsory support of a worship to which they did not give adherence, and which he must say he looked upon as a real and substantial grievance. At the same time the subject had been taken up and carried out in a manner altogether so discreditably that he could not give the present measure his support. The whole Bill now consisted practically but of the two clauses—one a clause directly to abolish the rates, and the other providing indemnity in all cases where money had been raised upon the payment of the rates. The subject was dealt with in so unsatisfactory a manner by the Bill that he should support the Amendment.
§ MR. GURNEY
said, he believed that by a large, influential, and intelligent portion of the people the payment of church-rates was felt to involve a very grievous injustice. Whether that feeling were well 786 or ill founded, he thought that the fact of its existence was well worthy the consideration of Parliament, and that to allay it some sacrifice even should be made. The hon. and learned Attorney General had estimated that sacrifice at 300,00l. a year; but as the Bill before the House proposed to abolish church-rates without any substitute whatever, he considered that the sacrifice which we should be called upon by this Bill to make, was not a sacrifice of money only, but of the principle of the Established Church of the country. That principle was, that it was the duty of the State to provide the means of public worship for the gratuitous use of all those who chose to avail themselves of it; but if the proposed Bill passed there would cease to I exist any longer a provision for the maintenance of the buildings wherein to conduct the operations of that worship. He would admit that the great question at issue between the supporters and opponents of ecclesiastical establishments was open to argument on both sides, but it was not one which ought to be introduced inferentially into a discussion like the present. He had voted against the two former stages of the Bill, and it was his intention to vote for the Amendment on the present occasion.
said, he considered that a measure of such importance ought, to have been introduced by the Government, and not by a private Member of that House; but, even although the Government had not introduced the measure, the House ought to have the benefit of the opinion of some of the principal Members of the Cabinet with regard to it. The second reading of the Bill was carried by a majority only of twenty-eight in a House of 406 Members, and in the minority were the First Lord of the Treasury, the Secretary for the Colonies, and four other Members of the Government. On the present occasion, therefore, as there was not a single Member of the Cabinet present, he should move that the debate be adjourned.
§ ADMIRAL WALCOTT
Sir, I am most willing, for my own part, to make any concession which will not involve an undue sacrifice on the one hand, and on the other will conciliate and disarm dissension. Peace, I conceive, is the end desired by the moderate on both sides—it will only be attained by either party yielding somewhat for the future. We must remember that the greatest part of the property of 787 this country was inherited, bought, and sold, on the understanding that the parish church was to be maintained and upheld by the owners of property, and therefore obtained and parted with at a lower rate, owing to the existence of that liability. I will readily concur to remove the contributions made by Dissenters towards the celebration of services which they do not frequent, but I am unprepared to go the whole length of the Bill. I would not hastily abolish church-rates in the gross, though I would consent to restrict their application to the maintenance of the fabric and the decent keep of the churchyard. Many churches, some approaching or equal in size to a cathedral, are situated in localities not only far from populous, but far from wealthy places—such as St. Albans, Beverley, Southwell, Christchurch, and others. Those structures were not designed for the bare accommodation of the attendants at divine service, but were enriched with every accessory of art and genius for the glory of the great object of this worship. They are national temples; they form and contain subjects of national pride and reverence; they indicate the progressive march of religion, civilisation, and taste. If church-rates are to be abolished, there is no reason why the State should not keep them in necessary repair, or aid the parishioners out of the Consolidated Fund. Let the gift then be national, and the Dissenters relieved as I propose. I am rejoiced the question comes before the House when no torpor or backwardness can be imputed to Churchmen;—on every side they are amongst the foremost in the promotion of schools and designs for the social and sanitary improvement of the population; and I may mention also, that within the last thirty-five years they have built and endowed more churches than were erected during the whole interval between that period and the Reformation.
said, it was evident that there existed on all sides of the House a desire that the question of church-rates should be settled. The second reading of the Bill had been assented to after a lengthened discussion, and he had voted for the second reading because, although he objected to the details of the measure, he thought that it was most desirable to establish the principle that all compulsory church-rates should cease. If he had any doubts as to the wisdom of abolishing church-rates they would be removed by the Bill brought in in another place by the 788 head of the Church, to the effect that church-rates should cease upon a second objection on the part of the parishioners. The real fact was, that only small repairs of the churches in the rural districts were executed, the greater reparations were effected by voluntary contributions. He also thought that, the House having affirmed the principle, the Government would have brought in a Bill to carry it into effect, and he hoped now that the House would consent to go into Committee in order to impress upon the Government the necessity of dealing with the question as it ought to be dealt with. He was not, he must repeat, at all satisfied with the details of the Bill, but he would vote for going into Committee in order to force the Government to turn their attention to the means of carrying into effect a principle which had been sanctioned by that House.
§ MR. FREWEN
said, he wished to call the attention of the House to the fact that, so far back as the time of the Commonwealth, a Bill was passed which provided that, in order to preserve all parish churches or chapels from ruin and decay, and for the payment of church dues, every parish should, under a penalty of a fine, elect a certain number of churchwardens, who should levy a church-rate subject to the approbation of two justices of the peace.
said, that on the previous evening they had had a discussion on the question of whether there should be a call of the House or not. The Motion of the hon. Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck) to postpone the discussion, because the Ministers were not present, was but another mode of subjecting the Cabinet to a call. He did not see that there was any reason at all for such a proceeding on the part of the House, for the opinions of Her Majesty's Ministers had been clearly expressed on the second reading of the Bill. On that occasion the noble Lord at the head of the Government clearly expressed the objections he felt to the details of the Bill, and opposed them because they were not proposed on the grounds he could have wished. As to the absence from the House of Her Majesty's Ministers on the present occasion, the fact was that they were attending a Cabinet Council, and could not be in their places in the House without neglecting other duties.
§ SIR WILLIAM CLAY
said, he would remind hon. Members that the principle of the Bill had been affirmed by the House, 789 and he would appeal to the spirit of fair dealing which existed in that House not to continue the present discussion, which was nothing more than a prolongation of the debate on the second reading, but to allow the Bill to go at once into Committee.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
said, he quite agreed with the hon. Baronet, that the present discussion might be considered a prolongation of the debate which took place on the second reading; but the hon. Member should remember that that debate was compressed into a single Wednesday sitting. Many hon. Gentlemen—and he was among the number—represented constituencies which regarded the present system as unsatisfactory, and would be most happy to see an alteration made in it, but, at the same time, they were not bound to accept any alteration that might be proposed; and therefore it was, he thought, a matter of justice to hon. Members so situated that they should have an opportunity of stating their views upon so important a subject, and of giving their reasons for opposing the present Bill. Another reason why the discussion should be continued was, that the Bill now was in a very different condition from that which it was when the second reading of it was assented to. The Bill, as it was at first introduced, proposed to abolish church-rates, and to make some other provision in lieu of them, but the Bill as it at present stood did nothing of the kind. The Bill did not abolish church-rates, for his own constituents complained that Dissenters were called upon to support an organist, whose salary was forced upon them by Act of Parliament, and the present Bill contained no clause which would remedy that injustice. Nor did the present Bill make any provision in lieu of church-rates, for, although the Bill, as originally introduced, substituted pew-rents, that provision had since been struck out, and the Bill at present proposed that voluntary contributions alone should be relied upon. The idea held out at the introduction of the Bill was, that its object was to relieve Dissenters from an injustice, but as it had since been altered, the only effect of it would be to shift the injustice from the Dissenters to Churchmen. The very principle of voluntary contribution upon which it was now proposed to rely in lieu of church-rates was restricted by the present Bill, which said that those who did not contribute should have a hand in the distribution of the sums collected. Many 790 persons possessed property in parishes in which they did not reside, and they would feel themselves bound to contribute to maintaining the fabric of the parish church, but it was very possible that the church-wardens and auditors who were to have the control of the money raised for that purpose, might be elected without their having a voice in the matter. It was said that the security was, that the churchwardens and auditors, when elected, were bound to expend the money upon the parish church. Now, that was certainly true; but there was nothing to prevent them from spending it in an improper manner not contemplated by the contributors. The hon. Baronet, who introduced the Bill, had stated that, in his opinion, it was desirable that Nonconformists should have a voice in the election of the churchwardens and auditors, because Churchmen possessed peculiar views which would be kept in check by the Nonconformists, but to give such a power to Nonconformists was, in his opinion, to greatly discourage Churchmen in contributing. He was willing to agree to any fair and reasonable method of dealing with the question, and, indeed, to make any fair concession, but he did not see why long established rights should be surrendered without any sufficient reason being assigned.
§ MR. SPOONER
said, he wished to remind the House that the real question before it was, whether or not the debate should be adjourned. The noble Lord the Member for Totness (Lord Seymour), had stated that he disapproved the details of the Bill, but if he did so he maintained that that noble Lord, and every hon. Member that took the same view, ought to vote for the adjournment of the debate, in order that, when it was resumed, the Government might be present and take part in the discussion. Two Cabinet Ministers had voted against the Bill on the second reading, and he should like to know what were the opinions of the rest of the Government upon the subject. Was it an open question with the Cabinet? Open questions now were permitted which formerly would not have been tolerated, and it was only a short time ago that the House discovered that even the question of peace or war was an open question in the Cabinet. If every question were to be dealt with in such a manner, there might as well be no Cabinet at all. The present question was a most important one, involving as it did the principle of 791 taking from the Established Church a national support which it had for many years enjoyed, and, therefore, it was one upon which the opinions of the Government should be fairly and openly expressed.
§ VISCOUNT EBRINGTON
said, he hoped that the House would consent to go into Committee on the Bill, and that the gentlemen opposite would not continue a course which would justly subject them to the charge of endeavouring to get rid of a Bill which they knew would be agreed to by a majority of the House by the expedient of speaking against time.
§ MR. MOWBRAY
said, that the noble Lord the Member for Totness had stated that he should vote for going into Committee, because he was anxious that the question should be settled. Now, he was equally anxious that it should be settled, and, in order that it might be, he was willing to agree to a certain amount of compromise; and, after the assurance given last year by the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord J. Russell), he had looked forward to some settlement of the question being arrived at during the present Session. Anxious, however, as he was that the question should be settled, and willing as he was to agree to some compromise, he was, nevertheless, not prepared to see it settled in the first way that might be proposed, or to see rights at once given up, which had been from time immemorial enjoyed by the Established Church. The noble Lord the Member for Totness had stated that he objected to the details of the present Bill, but that he should vote for going into Committee because he wished to affirm the principle contained in it, but that principle had already been confirmed on the second reading of the Bill. If the noble Lord objected to the details of the Bill, but approved its principle, and wished to force the Government to give effect to that principle, the best course he could pursue would be to vote for the adjournment, in order that the details of the measure might be discussed in the presence of some members of the Cabinet. The Tenants' Compensation Bill had been introduced by a private member of that House, and, upon the principle of its having been affirmed by the House, it had been taken up by the Government; but, surely, a Bill which proposed to take away from the Church rights which it had enjoyed from time immemorial was of equal importance, and was equally worthy the 792 attention of Her Majesty's Government. He did not think the hon. Baronet (Sir W. Clay), after the discussion which had taken place that day, was likely to carry his Bill much further, and if no practical legislation was likely to follow that Session, he thought the House should support the Motion of his hon. Friend the Member for West Norfolk (Mr. Bentinck), and adjourn the debate.
MR. LLOYD DAVIS
said, that in the part of the kingdom with which he was connected the question was one of vital importance, and if the Motion for adjournment were not acceded to it would be his duty, even at that advanced hour, to offer some observations upon the Bill before the House.
§ Motion made, and Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned."
§ The House divided: Ayes 118; Noes 175: Majority 57.
§ Question again proposed.
MR. LLOYD DAVIS,
who was listened to with great impatience, said he disclaimed any intention of talking merely for the purpose of occupying the time of the House, but he would not be deterred by clamour from entering into the merits of the question. If the Bill had for its object to relieve Dissenters alone from what they considered a grievance he should not object to it; but it proposed to do more; it relieved Dissenters and Churchmen alike, and took from the Church that which it had long enjoyed, in deference to the clamour of a small number of persons, quite insignificant when compared with the large number who were content with the law as it was. The whole operation of the Bill was confined to a few words, which were, "That from and after a certain date no church-rates should be paid in England and Wales." The clauses appointing a fund in lieu of church-rates, and appointing auditors, had been abandoned. They obliged the clergy to worship within those sacred edifices, and yet, with singular inconsistency, they took away the means of keeping those edifices in repair. It appeared to him that if it was just in principle to keep up tithes, it was equally just in principle to keep up church-rates, and it would be an act of the grossest injustice to take them away without giving the Church any substitute whatever. Instead of asking the House to go into Committee upon a Bill which did not contain a single particle of the provisions it originally comprised, with the exception of the first por- 793 tion, the Government ought to bring forward the question in a manner in which it could be satisfactorily entertained by the House. It had been said that the revenues of the bishops and dignitaries of the Church were sufficient to sustain the fabrics of the Church, but what security was there for the retention of that property if they invaded, as they now proposed doing, property equally sacred and indisputable? But they had no right to take away resources which the law had sanctioned, and then to call upon another class of persons to supply those resources. As to getting a single penny from pew-rents in rural districts, he regarded that as quite out of the question, and if, therefore—
The hon. Gentleman was here interrupted by Mr. SPEAKER, who intimated that the hour had arrived at which, according to the rule of the House, the debate must be closed.
§ Debate adjourned.
§ The House adjourned at seven minutes before six o'clock.