§ Order for Committee read.
§ SIR JOHN TRELAWNY,
in moving that the House should go into Committee, said he wished to notice two points. There was a general idea that Wesleyans, as a body, were opposed to abolition, that idea having arisen from the evidence of Mr. Bunting and Mr. Erwin before the Committee of the House of Lords. If any reliance were to he placed upon weight of authority, he asked the House to consider the resolution he held in his hand, signed by no less than 15,000 Wesleyans, of whom 7,000 were ministers and office bearers, who expressed a deep conviction that the 1490 extinction of church rates was necessary to the existence of good-will between the members of the Church and other religious bodies. The other point he wished to explain was with regard to collections in churches. It had been suggested that such collections were contrary to the prerogative of the Crown, and were not legal. Prom the 9 Geo. IV., c. 42, it might be inferred that collections in churches for various purposes were not legal, inasmuch as those collections which were legal were mentioned in the Act. He was told that an illegal act was committed by members of a Committee of Convocation some years ago when they came to a resolution that these collections should be encouraged. He had been also told that sufficient money might be obtained to supply a substitute for church rates by means of church collections alone, which might for this purpose he legalized. As the case stood clergymen were constantly asked to preach for particular purposes or allow others to preach for purposes such as were in the opinion of incumbents, of doubtful advantage or of doubtful legality. On this ground it was understood that Queen's letters had been some years since discontinued. He merely threw this out as a hint to hon. Members opposite. If they could suggest some mode in which the expense of church fabric and Divine service could be met without a compulsory rate he should be willing to give his attention to it. In conclusion, he moved that the House go into Committee.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
said, he was not going to address the House on the subject of church rates generally; but in consequence of what had fallen from the hon. Baronet on the other side he wished to make a few-remarks. He wished in the first place to explain that the mixed Methodists of whom his hon. Friend had spoken was a totally different body from that of the Old Wesleyans; and the Conference to which he had alluded was the Conference on church rates, and not a Conference of Wesleyans. With respect to the Old Wesleyan body, their Conference had not declared one way or the other. The evidence of Mr. Osborne and Mr. Bunting was that from their knowledge of the body, the members were in favour of maintaining the system of church rates; and from communications 1491 he had himself received from one of the most eminent members, he believed this to be the true state of the case. There was a Bill before Parliament in which the Dissenters claimed the use of churchyards, not only for the purposes of burial, but also for the purpose of performing there religious services. It seemed strange that they should claim such a right, and at the same time refuse to pay towards the expenses of maintaining the churches.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
—Mr. Speaker, the hon. Baronet the Member for Tavistock knows perfectly well that the terms in which I have been obliged to give notice of my Amendment are dictated by the forms of the House: for my Amendment involves the creation of a charge in substitution for church rates in certain cases, which the forms of the House prevent my moving in Committee on the Bill. I have, therefore, no alternative but to move that the Committee on the Bill be deferred for the purpose of enabling me to bring forward my Amendment. My proposition may be considered as that of a substitute for church rates; I wish also to explain to the House that, in the course which I am now taking, I am actuated by no want of respect to the hon. Baronet the Member for Tavistock, or for the decision of the House in favour of this Bill for the Abolition of church rates. This subject has been long—too long—in the hands of private Members; and, as a private Member, I comply with the custom of this House, which experience proves to he that, whether from consideration for its own dignity or from the fact that the proposal of no private Member can so command the ready assent of this great assembly as at once to obtain their approval; the habit of the House is that the House will not, when an important Bill is in the hands of private Members, or when an important Amendment to any such Bill is also in the hands of a private Member, at once accept either; but expects, that either or both should be several times submitted for consideration; and at such intervals as will admit of the attendance of a full majority of the House, not only to vote, but to hear and take part in discussion upon the question. In deference, therefore, to that which has become the habit and practice of the House, and of which I think no private Member has any right to complain, I again submit the proposal which I have twice before introduced to the notice of the House.
1492 I have always, and shall always, oppose the abolition of church rates, without the provision of a substitute; but the voice of the House has declared itself in favour of those who propose that measure of abolition. If the truth were known however, and the majority of those who vote with the hon. Baronet the Member for Tavistock did not feel themselves hound by party obligations, I believe the greater portion of them would be found not to desire the total and unconditional abolition of church rates. In deference to the opinion of the House, I therefore accept the proposal of the hon. Baronet, that church rates shall be abolished; and I myself wish that the personal character of church rates should be removed. I also concur with the hon. Baronet in thinking that the rate, when collected, should be expended strictly for Church necessaries, and that the levy should be made by a purely civil process, in accordance with the purposes for which the rate was made; for I deny that the rate is given for merely ecclesiastical purposes: I mean "ecclesiastical" in the narrow sense of the term. The purpose of church rates is to maintain the fabric, services, and appurtenances of the Church for the benefit of the whole of the inhabitants of the parish. And I refuse, though opposed on this subject by some of the Dissenters of the present day, to give up the right of future Dissenters to the use of the church and churchyard for baptisms, marriages, and burials. I claim for every inhabitant of every parish which has hitherto paid church rates the right to the means of maintaining the parish church for all the purposes for which by law they have a right to use it. At the same time I wish to show the utmost deference, the most true and complete liberality towards the religious scruples of my Dissenting fellow countrymen; and I beg the House to consider this—that, short of the total and unconditional abolition of church rates, the scheme which I am about to propose to them involves the widest concessions ever proposed to the House. I propose to give the means of personal exemption from all charge for the maintenance of the fabric and services of the Church to the entire body of occupiers in this country. I go further, and say that, in many populous districts where church rate has not been levied for a series of years, and where prescription has practically invalidated the liability of property to church rate—I speak of those districts where no church rate has 1493 been levied for seven years that there the property shall be held exempt by prescription, on the same principle that I hold that property in districts where church rates have been always levied should still be deemed liable by prescription. Now, let not the House undervalue the claims or rights which arise out of prescription. Common law is based on prescription—the best of all titles is usage; and I claim that title in favour of the inhabitants of 80 per cent of the parishes of this country—that they shall not be deprived, without an equivalent, of rights, privileges, and property which they have ever enjoyed, and of which, by constant use, they prove their value. I wish to bring this subject to a practical common sense issue, such as is worthy the intellect and reason of this House. I deprecate the length of time that this matter has been in agitation. I say that the true issue, the real question, has been lost sight of. We hear the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright), whom I see resuming his place, talking as if this was merely a question of supremacy. I think that this is placing the question on a false issue. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) says—That he will do nothing to remedy the avowedly imperfect state of the law of church rates—that he will do nothing towards providing a substitute—that he will do nothing in consideration for the conscientious feelings of the moderate Dissenters until this House has rescinded its decision in favour of the total abolition of church rates.I say that that is a collateral and irrelevant issue. What I hope the Legislature—the majority in this House, and the majority in the House of Lords—will consider is whether they cannot find some means by which, without robbing 80 per cent of the parishes of this country, and the great majority of the inhabitants of this country, of a property and privilege which they locally enjoy and really value, they cannot relieve every conscientious Dissenter from reasonable occasion for the scruples by which I know they are conscientiously actuated. Now, there is no exaggeration to which conscientious scruples may not be carried. I can conceive a man so prejudiced as to say, "Don't take your time from the parish clock, it is wound up by the clerk, and its time is taken from the rector's watch, therefore it must be wrong;" or, "don't trust the parish map, it is kept in the vestry with the surplice, 1494 therefore it is not to be trusted." There is no exaggeration, I repeat, to which conscientious scruples may not be carried; but notwithstanding that, I know there are really conscientious, and honest, though I think mistaken, persons whose religious scruples have such power that they can be overcome by nothing save the power of truth; and the more you oppose those scruples the more likely are you to induce a temper that will render it more and more difficult on the part of those who entertain these views to become practically accessible to the dictates of reason and charity.
I think, therefore, it is desirable, if out of the numerous proposals which have been made we can select one that will satisfy those religious scruples which are entertained by a considerable portion of Her Majesty's subjects; and I believe that the scheme I now propose would have that effect.
What I propose is this:—That no parish shall be deprived of its property, or the right of controlling that property to which it has always been entitled, or of the right of applying to its own Church the proceeds of that property. For church rates are property. To take away that property, if it has been enjoyed within the last seven years, I should consider to be downright spoliation; and to that I, for one, will never, consent. At the same time I think that the form of the charge might be so changed that the unhappy opportunities for discord connected with the present processes of assessment and levy may be removed, and that the money when collected might be placed at the disposal of the parishes which are entitled to it without their having to pass through a phase of action to obtain it, which exposes them to the attempts of those who may think agitation a duty; but who, I must say, in these religious questions, are really disturbers of the public peace.
Well, Sir, it appears to me that it is beside the question to consider whether there is in this present House a majority of fifteen in favour of the total abolition of church rates, or a majority of fifteen in favour of maintaining church rate. The real practical matter which concerns the welfare of this country is the balanced state of opinion on this subject in the country and in this House. This has existed too long; and there is great danger of our seeing public opinion diverted to some wrong issue; I wish in the interest 1495 of peace, in the interest of religion, that this House would do me the great honour of allowing me to submit to them the details of the scheme which I have long considered for this purpose.
I have said that, wherever church rates have been levied within the last seven years, I would consent to their abolition there as well as elsewhere; but wherever they have been so levied, I would propose to substitute for them a fixed charge of twopence in the pound; which, after a careful examination, I find to have been the average of the church rate, where it has been levied, throughout England and Wales, during the last nine years; and I would give every occupier the power of deducting that amount from his rent, so that he should be exempt in accordance with his religious scruples, if he entertain any, by private arrangement with his landlord, and not by being publicly ticketed, or obliged to ticket himself, as a person who objects to the Church.
Why, Sir, it often happens that the occasion of objection to church rate is an objection to the clergyman personally. It may be that the rector is offensive, and because the parishioners dislike the rector, they oppose the church rate. I have known many instances of that kind of objection to church rates; but I have also known much more justifiable objections. I have heard of cases where the church rate has been applied to matters connected with religious services, in a manner which the majority of the parishioners thought was alien to the doctrines of the Church of England, to which they are attached, and they therefore refused church rates. Now, do not tell me that these men are to be ticketed as men who are adverse to the Church of England. They only object to an abuse which has arisen in their own particular parish, and in their own particular church. These persons have objected to these malpractices in the only manner they can effectually. Upon this score, then, I object to their being ticketed as Nonconformists or adverse to the Church; their objection proves that they are sound members of the Church. No man ought, on account of such feelings as these, to be marked and misinterpreted as an opponent of the Church or of church rates. We have abundant evidence that, if people are opposed to church rates, they will adopt means to let their opposition be known, but I do not want to see all opponents of church rates ticketed 1496 alike. For, if a man is once ticketed as an opponent of the Church the greatest tyranny is exercised towards him if he should again wish to avail himself of her services, to which I maintain he has the right of full and free access, an access as full and as free as any of her regular communicants.
I have said that I hope the House will consider the subject, not with a view to the false issue of supremacy, or the collateral issue of rescinding of its own Resolution, but with a view to the settlement of the question; such a settlement as will he likely to ensure future peace, consistently with the preservation of the rights of the great majority of the parishes in this country.
What is this question of supremacy? I can scarcely believe that the hon. Member for Birmingham means to establish the supremacy of Nonconformity; because, according to the old rule, that "a house divided against itself must fall," that supremacy must fall. For what is Nonconformity as distinguished from Protestantism? Nonconformity means variance. Do you mean to establish the supremacy of variance in religious matters? Why, you know that such a supremacy as that could not be long maintained: you know that it must fall. But I will tell you what will arise out of it. You will establish a rival church to the Church of England, which is embarrassed by none of the external differences of opinion in its external action which impede the action of the various sects of Dissenters. You may, by this process of ticketing Dissenters, instead of simply allowing a deduction of church rates from rent in satisfaction of these conscientious objections, establish the Church of Rome; then the hon. Member for Birmingham would be right, and we should have a real struggle for supremacy, and a most fatal struggle too, between two rival established churches; thus would you be sowing the seeds of future strife on a matter upon which religious strife has torn this country in past ages to the enormous detriment and continued suffering of its population. The recurrence of that fatal strife would be the probable result of your system of ticketing Nonconformity. I object, therefore, to all personal exemption on the ground of religious scruples. I would go further still; I would give a personal exemption, if they like to have it, to a class, though not to individual objectors. I would give the means of ex- 1497 emption to the whole body of occupiers; and I think I can show that I should be doing no injustice to the owners of property; for this deduction would be carried out upon the same principle as the deductions of property tax, which the occupier is entitled to make from his rent; and all the same rules with respect to the liabilities of the parties, which are the fruit of experience in the case of the property tax, would be applicable to this charge. What injury, then, do I inflict upon the owners of property? I assert, upon the authority of the late Sir Robert Peel, given in the year 1S34, that the church rate is a tax upon property. I assert it also, upon the authority of Mr. Coode, the most experienced person on rating matters, perhaps, now living, that church rates and all other rates are a charge upon property. I assert the fact, upon the precedent established by the Irish Poor Law where one-half the charge is made leviable directly upon property; but, as I see the hon. Baronet the Member for Tavistock is inclined to dispute this point, perhaps the House will forgive me if I read a short extract from the Report of the Poor Law Commissioners on local taxation, presented to both Houses of Parliament in 1840. They are speaking of all rates; and they say—Many inconveniences and anomalies arise from the fact that the legal character of the poors' rate, and of all the local rates, except the sewer's rate, is not made accordant with its real and essential character. These rates are essentially taxes on the rent of the landlord; not taxes upon the occupier's profits; no legal declarations, no limitations of legal remedies to the person and goods of the occupier, however much they may disguise the aspect of the tax, or make its burden operate unequally on rent, can make it fall permanently on anything but rent. If the same rates were all avowedly laid upon the landlord, but made leviable upon any goods found upon the rated property, the occupier being enabled to deduct his rate from his rent, the amount of net rent which would then be paid to the landlord would doubtless be the same as now; but there would be no disguise of the real incidence of the burden. This result would be not only valuable for the sake of the abstract fairness of giving protection to those whose interests are really involved, but would be equally desirable for the sake of those classes who, though not interested as tax payers, are otherwise deeply interested in the proper administration of the laws; for perhaps the greatest abuses which ever prevailed in the administration of the poor laws arose from this fact, that the tax fell, and that it was found out by the occupiers that it did fall upon the landlord, while the administration, expenditure, and appropriation of the tax was given exclusively to the occupiers, who did not really bear the burden. The attempt to give the tax the appearance of an occupier's tax 1498 involves, besides, many other practical inconveniences.Now, I do not think that a stronger opinion than that could be given.Another inconvenience"—they go on to say, "results from this. In order to catch the occupier, it is necessary to make the remedies very much more stringent than would be necessary if it were made clear to the occupier that what he paid in rate, he would deduct in the rent. Committal of poor occupiers to gaol for non-payment of rates would certainly be unnecessary, if the rate were made in law what it is in reality, a landlord's tax, and an avowed, instead of a disguised deduction from rent.That is my opinion also; and I find it supported by the opinion of the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In short, I do not understand how any man who is conversant with the management of property can dispute it; because, as Mr. Coode says, in his evidence before the House of Lords—The intending occupier would be insane who agreed to a rent without ascertaining to what rates and taxes the property upon which he is about to enter, is subject, and which he would have to meet.I will not go further into this subject, but I would touch upon one point which arises out of the extract I have just read. It would be highly improper to give the occupiers, who would be exempt under my plan, an unlimited power of taxing the property of the landlords under whom they bold. That would be most improper and unfair. I propose, therefore, to fix the rate of the charge at 2d. in the pound as a church charge in lieu and substitution of church rate. I know it will be said that, where churches have been lately built, or are in good repair, the parish would not need so much as 2d. in the pound for the annual expenses. Well, I have contemplated and provided for that. I propose that, after this charge of 2d. in the pound has been collected with the county rate, it shall be paid through the county or borough treasurers, to the clerk of the peace, and be by him transferred to the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty. Why do I select the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty? Because, I speak here, not in the interests of the clergy only; not in the the interests of the communicants of the Church of England only; but I appear here claiming, that the majority of the inhabitants in the majority of the parishes of the country shall not be deprived of property, to which they are entitled, without compensation; and I select this body, the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty, be- 1499 cause it is not exclusively a clerical body. That body, it is true, includes the Bishops, but with them are associated the Lords-Lieutenant of all the English and Welsh counties; with, them are associated the mayors of every town; and with them are associated also Her Majesty's counsel, learned in the law. Ever since the reign of Queen Anne, this body has honourably administered the funds committed to its charge by the Crown, with the consent of Parliament; and during the whole course of my public life, I have never heard a single imputation cast upon the fairness of the administration of that body. I would, therefore, make that body, possessed as it is of wide information with respect to the parishes of this country, the depository of this fund; and I would give to the clergyman and churchwardens of every parish—treating every ecclesiastical district, which is regularly organised as a parish, freely and independently invested with parochial rights—the right to claim the whole amount levied within the year from the property of that parish out of the depository, which I would create in the hands of the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty. What will be effect of this? If the contributions from the property of any parish under the charge I would thus create, amount to more than would be required for the annual expenditure, it should then be the duty of the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty to act as treasurers for the surplus, so that it may safely accumulate to the credit of the parish; unless it be required to meet some extraordinary demand for repairs of the Church, or some such purpose, it would soon accumulate, until the sum is sufficient to produce, as an endowment, an income equivalent to the annual charge upon the parish—sooner or later, in most cases, this would probably be the result; and I would then make it the duty of the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty to create an endowment; and the endowment once created the charge should lapse, and the property in the parish be thenceforth free. That is the nature of the provision which I would make in lieu of church rates for more than 80 per cent of the parishes in this country.
I will not now go into figures in order to show that twopence in the pound is really the average of church rates, because it has been admitted by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, and accepted by the Chancellor of the Exchequer; and I know from information which I have obtained, and which is open to others in common with 1500 myself, that that is the true average of the church rate for England and Wales during the last seven years.
But I shall be told that by this scheme I am doing a serious injury to the Church of England in the large towns where no church rate has been levied within seven years. Now that is the very last thing that I should wish to do. Yet, I shall be told "You are consenting to renounce the liability of these parishes to repair their churches." Well, it is quite true that I do so; but why do I consent? Because there is no power to enforce that liability. I am prepared to recognise the facts as they stand. The Church of England is established in those large towns, but the Church has failed to fulfil her functions there. She levied church rates long after she ceased to afford corresponding benefit to the inhabitants, long after the increase of population in these large towns had rendered it impossible for one-fourth of the population to enter her sacred edifices and join in her services; and I say that that' was an abuse of which the inhabitants had a right to complain, because in that case the rate was levied without any corresponding benefit—a benefit which the Church was bound to provide, but which she failed to supply. I would not, however, leave these Churches destitute. In the case of those parishes, as in the case of all others, I would incorporate the clergyman with the churchwardens for the purpose of receiving benefactions and voluntary contributions for the maintenance of the fabric of the Church, and for conducting her services. And here, Sir, I beg to say that I go fully with the advocates of the voluntary principle: nay, I go beyond them in this: by incorporation I would recognise the fact that the Church is the established national Church belonging to each parish, and I would give to the incorporated clergyman and churchwardens the means of permanently holding property for this purpose; so that if the benevolence of Churchmen shall incite them hereafter to provide sufficient means for the use and sustentation of those Churches, the Churchmen in these parishes may not be wanting in the means of permanently appropriating those funds with a view to a permanent provision for these sacred objects. Such is the provision that I would make for the churches in populous districts—a provision in accordance with the voluntary system, but going beyond it in making necessary provision for the future.
1501 Now, entertaining as I do the deepest respect for the Nonconformist body, many of whom, wisely, are not unfriendly to the Church of England as the great protectress of their religious freedom—yet the Nonconformists must acknowledge that they have proved that they are incapable of providing for the religious necessities of the people. That I think cannot be denied. I have acknowledged that the Church has failed adequately to provide for the religious necessities of the populous districts; but it is not less notorious that the Dissenting and other bodies have also failed. We have it in evidence that there is a mass of spiritual destitution growing up in England which neither the exertions of the Church, by the voluntary exertions of her members for her enlargement, estitimated by the hon. Baronet the Member for Finsbury (Sir Morton Peto), the other night at £400,000 a year, since the commencement of the present century, expended in new churches alone, nor the exertions of the Dissenting bodies have been able to reduce or overtake. Well, Sir, I say this, that it would be an act of double injustice if you despoil the parishes which hold church rates and value them for their use; for by abolishing church rates without compensation you would cut off the voluntary contributions which parishes, having churches and church rates, extend to relieve the destitution of those populous parishes where no church rates exist. That would be the inevitable result. For if the hon. Baronet the Member for Finsbury is right, and if the sum devoted by the voluntary contributions of Churchmen to the erection of new churches since the commencement of the century has been £400,000 a year, and you deprive the Church of £300,000 a year, which is the amount of church rates, I do not say that yon will cripple the means of extending the ministrations of the Church through her fabrics in arithmetical proportion, for then you would leave only £100,000 a year instead of £400,000 of voluntary contributions devoted to the erection of new churches; but I do say that it is reasonable to suppose that you would diminish the amount by one-half, and to that extent you would perpetuate the spiritual destitution and irreligion in the mass of the population.
I thank the House for the kindness with which they have heard me explain this proposal. It is simply this. I would charge property in those parishes where 1502 church rates have been levied within the last seven years with a charge of 2d. in the pound. If the House in Committee may think proper to decide upon that sum, I would have that sum levied and collected with the county rate, and it should be paid through the county and borough treasurers to the clerk of the peace, who should thereupon transfer it to the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty. I would incorporate the clergyman and churchwardens of every parish, giving them the right, wherever this charge exists, to draw the amount from the hands of the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty to the extent of the charge upon the property of the parish for which they act; but I would give the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty the power of knowing whether the whole of the charge was required within the current year for the purposes of the church rate. And if it were not required I would ensure that the surplus should accumulate to the credit of the parish, so that it might be available for any extraordinary demand; and if it is not required for any extraordinary demand that it should be available as a fund for the creation of an endowment; upon the creation of which the charge itself should lapse.
I hold that I do no Dissenting owners any injustice. All I say to them is this—I refuse to place you in possession of the gross proceeds of the property of which you hold the net rental, but of which the gross proceeds never were yours. I refuse to allow you by virtue of your peculiar religious opinions to rob the majority of the parish for all time to come of that share of the property in the parish which they have ever held. I do you no injustice by enabling your tenant to deduct from his rent the amount of this charge upon him; for you may adjust that by private arrangement, and if it be necessary, as it may be, under some forms of lease, I would introduce a provision for enabling landlords and tenants to accommodate their arrangements to the altered state of circumstances which I would create.
Thus, Sir, would be preserved to the majority of the parishes of the country, a property which they have ever enjoyed,—I mean to the inhabitants of the parishes generally, and not exclusively Churchmen; for so far am I from desiring that in vestry the inhabitants should not have the power of controlling the application of those funds to their own church, that I would make the expenditure of the funds that 1503 would be received from the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty—subject in all cases to the opinion of the vestry, under due ecclesiastical supervision, and thus secure that each parish church should be so organised as to meet the feelings and wishes of the majority of the parishioners. Perhaps, in closing this subject for the present, I may be allowed to read to the House the Resolutions I shall move in the event of my being permitted to introduce the subject to a Committee. They would be to the effect, that, accepting the whole Bill of the hon. Baronet, the Member for Tavistock, as it stands, so far as the total abolition of church rates is concerned.
That in the opinion of this House it is expedient—That in lieu of church rates, thenceforth to be abolished, an annual payment, to be called the church charge, be fixed at the rate of 2d. in the pound, on the annual value of every description of property, now by law rateable to the church rate, be levied, and be chargeable upon the owners of all kinds of property in every parish throughout England and Wales, in which a church rate has been levied at any time within seven years before the passing of this Act.That the church charge be payable into a common fund, to be administered by the Governors of Queen Anne's Bounty and (subject to the expense of administration) be applicable within the several parishes contributing thereto, according to the amount contributed by each parish to the purposes to which church rates are now by law applicable.That the church charge of any parish be at any time redeemable by the establishment from any sources of a permanent fund, yielding a perpetual annual income equal in amount to the church charge for the same parish.That the incumbent and churchwardens of every parish be constituted a body corporate, for receiving and applying gifts and contributions in aid of, or for, or towards, the redemption of the church charge of the parish.Therefore, the ultimate effect of my proposition is that, wherever church rates are now levied in lieu of them, a charge shall be established in a form in which it may be commuted, or may be redeemed, in the same manner as the tithe rent charge or land tax can be commuted or redeemed; thus any owner of property being a Dissenter may at his option commute or redeem the charge on his property, or he may wait until the surplus of the charge has accumulated to the credit of the parish to such an amount, that his property would cease to be chargeable; or if any benevolent individual furnished the money which would be necessary for an endowment, that would also put an end to the charge upon his property. I believe, Sir, that this scheme, if it were elaborated by the wis- 1504 dom of the House, would be a means of future peace. It is certainly the widest proposal for meeting the religious scruples of those, who contend for total abolition of church rates that has ever yet been submitted to Parliament, short of the unconditional abolition of church rate.
I make this proposal in the spirit of conciliation, of peace, and of good will to my Dissenting fellow-countrymen, and I trust that by this proposition, if the House shall think proper to adopt it, we may remove a source of discord which has produced very evil effects; for I appeal to the representatives of the Dissenters opposite whether it is not the fact, that this controversy is alienating our Dissenting Protestant fellow-countrymen from the Protestant members of the Church of England, and I know that it is driving the Church of England back upon the exclusive bigotry of the Church of Rome. As an earnest and sincere Protestant, therefore, I pray you, do not allow this occasion of strife to continue in future years unremedied, as you value the religious freedom, which we all enjoy. I beg to move—That this House will, To-morrow, resolve itself into a Committee, to consider the propriety of establishing, in lieu of Church Rates, thenceforth to be abolished, a charge upon all hereditaments in respect of the occupancy of which Church Rates have been paid within the last seven years, such charge to be levied with the County Rate at an uniform rate of poundage, the occupier being in all cases entitled to deduct from his rent the amount of the charge levied on his occupation,
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ MR. ALCOCK
said, that as this seemed to be the time for conciliation, he would put it to his hon. Friend (Sir John Trelawny) whether he could not add a clause to his Bill to provide for the voluntary formation of a fund, as he (Mr. Alcock) proposed in the Bill on this subject of which he had the care? Although they might agree to abolish church rates at once and for ever, he still thought it possible to give an opportunity of creating a permanent fund by which the churches might hereafter be kept in repair without the necessity of calling for any annual voluntary contribution. It might be asked what was the use of enabling men to do what they might already do if they chose; but his object would be to free parishes from all possible liability to church rates; 1505 and, as the law stood at present, the establishment of voluntary rent charges would not prevent the levy of a church rate.
§ MR. EDWARD BALL
said, that so far from thinking that the Amendment of the hon. Gentleman the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) would allay strife, in his opinion it would only increase it; nor could he expect for a moment to carry such a proposition in a House of Commons which had repeatedly expressed its conviction that church rates ought to be abolished.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that he specially accepted all those parishes in which resolutions were passed in favour of the total abolition of church rates.
§ MR. EDWARD BALL
said, he did not wish to misrepresent the hon. Gentleman, who entertained very strong and conscientious feelings in regard to the question; but at the same time he must give other persons credit for entertaining equally strong objections to church rates. He also thought that the Amendment would tend to make more bitter the strife between Dissenters and Churchmen, because it would take away all the power from the parishes which they now possessed, and make it absolutely incumbent upon such as had paid church rates within seven years to continue them. He had always voted for the abolition of these rates from the time he became a Member of the House, because he considered he was pledged to do so; but he conceived that the House, while allowing Dissenters to he exempted from the payment of church rates, had no right to go further and refuse to allow those who were in their favour the privilege of taxing themselves. It was unfair to ask the Dissenter to pay church rates; but the Dissenter became an oppressor when he said the Churchman should not pay them. He knew that not only a very large body of the people belonging to the Church, but almost all the clergy, considered them almost absolutely essential to it; and he for one was not disposed to look with jealousy and distrust upon that highly respectable body. Was it not the testimony of all fair men that the clergy of the Church of England were, as a class, among the most godly portion of the Christian community? Was there not a most remarkable difference between the clergy fifty or sixty years ago and the clergy of the present time—were they not honourably distinguished for their performance of Christian duties? Did they not come forward as 1506 the zealous promoters of parish schools; and did they not by their mode of life afford a bright example of moral conduct, while at the same time many of them by their lives illustrated the great principles and doctrines of the Christian religion? Was he, then, to view this question only as a Dissenter, and not as a Christian? Was he to view it in that light simply which would please Dissenters, when he thought it incumbent upon them to listen to any fair compromise of this important question? He might give offence by these observations; but when he saw societies instituted the avowed object of which was enmity to the Church, and remembered that the greatest of Christian precepts was charity, he could no longer stand up in that House as a Dissenter alone, but must avow his opinion that the time bad arrived when they were bound to consider how they could best reconcile the different conflicting sentiments and interests of all parties. All were agreed that the church rates had constituted a tax from a very distant period, when the Church administered the whole religious instruction of the people. At that time, therefore, the Church was entitled to receive the whole amount collected in the shape of church rates; but in 1801 it was ascertained that the Dissenters were 18 per cent of the whole body of those who went to places of worship; and in 1851, in consequence of their efforts in instructing the people in founding Sunday schools, and in advocating Christian truth, the proportion of Dissenters to the whole number attending places of worship was found to have increased 50 per cent. That result was extremely creditable to the Dissenters, and formed a ground for their applying to Parliament and asking to be exempt from the payment of church rates; but it would not be just to deprive others who did not wish to be relieved of the power of paying the rates, he deemed it obligatory on all persons to consider bow they could harmonize discordant views and effect some compromise on this question. Those who were attached to the Christian instruction of the people, and desired to maintain Protestant principles, ought to deliberate upon some plan which would give entire relief to the Dissenters, and continue to the Churchman the power of contributing to church rates. It was with the deepest regret that he saw the hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) endeavour, in relation to this question, to import into the discussion last week, quotations from a book 1507 now well known as Essays and Reviews; a book containing sentiments he most strongly deprecated.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
submitted that to enter upon the condemnation of a theological work having no connection with the subject under discussion was not according to the ordinary exercise of the privilege of debate.
§ MR. EDWARD BALL
was of opinion that the right hon. Gentleman should have made his objection when the subject was first introduced to the notice of the House by the hon. Member for Birmingham.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, he was not present when the subject was formerly adverted to, but his impression was that the matter was then introduced argumentatively.
§ MR. EDWARD BALL
thought that the more argumentatively it had been introduced the more dangerous it was; but, however, if it was objectionable, he would not carry his observations further than to say how glad he was that the whole bench of Bishops had reprobated it as full of the most dangerous doctrines. There was one other book which he had read during the recess—he alluded to the four charges by the Bishop of Oxford, and he was bound to say the sentiments contained in that publication, and the mode in which the subject had been handled, was such as to make him wish that it had been read by the clergy of all denominations. Considering, as he did, that this Amendment would take away all power from the parishes, and make church rates determinable upon county rates—that, instead of being a permissive power, it would be rendered absolute, and that, instead of giving any relief to Dissenters, it would only fasten upon them the burthens of which they complained, he should give his most unhesitating opposition to the Amendment.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, he thought the hon. Member had shown good taste in not persisting in the subject which he had last brought under the consideration of the House. Perhaps the House would excuse him if he refused to enter into a general discussion of the church rate question, and confined the few remarks he had to make to the Motion of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate). As he understood the question of church rates, three classes of opinions prevailed. There was, first, the class of persons who held the doctrine of "No surrender," and thought the existing law was a good 1508 law, and should be maintained as far as possible. There was also the class who claimed a majority in the House, and wished to abolish the existing law of church rates simply. These were the two extreme opinions; but between them were the opinions of an intermediate class of persons, who thought that the existing law could not be maintained in its integrity, who proposed some system which should abate the pretensions of the Church, and should, nevertheless, maintain some form of compulsory rate, probably limited to persons who were in habitual communion with the Church, and attended its weekly services. It would be difficult to find any fourth class who did not come within those three descriptions. The hon. Gentleman the Member for North Warwickshire, however, appeared to constitute himself a fourth class, because he proposed not only to retain all the existing law, and, therefore, to hoist the standard of "No surrender;" but he proposed to give to the Church and to the State for the benefit of the repairs of the fabric of the church, a substituted rate which was more compulsory and stronger in its adhesion to the land than the present one. The church rate was now, in fact, a voluntary rate, as it depended on an aggregate majority of the ratepayers in vestry assembled. Practically, in a considerable number of parishes church rates had been virtually abolished by the refusal of the majority of the ratepayers to sanction them. One of the Members for the University of Oxford (Sir William Heathcote) who spoke on the second reading of the Bill, intimated that he was not desirous to reimpose church rates in those parishes. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, the other Member for the University, also expressed in the plainest language his readiness to surrender the church rates in those parishes in which they had been virtually abolished. Those two Gentlemen belonged to the intermediate class he had mentioned; but the hon. Member for North Warwickshire would reintroduce the rate in all those parishes.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
That is exactly what I would not do; because wherever it has not been levied for seven years I would not impose the charge.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, that if the rate had been continuously abolished for seven years that exception would, no doubt, apply, but it would not where it had only been abolished for six, five, or four years. In all those cases, as he under- 1509 stood, the Chancellor of the Exchequer would take the existing state of things as a fact to he recognized, and Dot seek to reintroduce the church rate; but, according to the present scheme, unless there was a prescription of the non-imposition of the church rate for seven years, the rate would attach to the soil, and be levied on occupiers; and the effect would be to give the church a stronger remedy by means of this substitute for church rates than it possessed at present. The question was one of great difficulty, but he thought the large majority of the House, and even those who voted in the minority on the second reading, would not regard such a proposition as desirable. Therefore, without going into any general arguments upon the question, he objected to the proposal of the hon. Gentleman on the ground that it constituted a stronger remedy for levying church rates than was given by the existing law, and deprived the rate of its voluntary character, making it a permanent and compulsory charge upon land in all cases where there had not been a cessation of levy for seven years, and should vote against the Amendment.
§ Lord ROBERT CECIL
said, he quite accepted the classification which the right hon. Gentleman (Sir George Lewis) had made, and he should vote in a manner that would place him in the "No surrender" class. His hon. Friend (Mr. Newdegate) had stated that he accepted the principle of the abolition of church rates. He (Lord Robert Cecil) did not know how that could he, because he thought if his hon. Friend's Amendment were carried there would be rather more church rates than before. So that, to say the least, his view was a very quaint one. The fact was that it was impossible to reflect on the debate of last Wednesday without feeling that the ground had been completely swept from under the feet of what the right hon. Gentleman had termed the intermediate party; for although the hon. Baronet the Member for Oxford University (Sir William Heathcote) commenced the debate by a very conciliatory speech, the course the debate afterwards took convinced everybody on that side of the House that the opponents of church rates had shifted their position. It was impossible to listen to the speech of the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Ball) without feeling that, as respected this question of church rates, there was an old and a new party of Dissenters, who viewed it from totally different quar- 1510 ters. The original ground taken by the Dissenters was that it was a grievance to them to he called upon to support a religious establishment to which they did not belong; and everybody would acknowledge that that was an objection which was worthy of very great attention. At the same time they did not attempt to restrict those who chose to do so from contributing towards church rates. There had been no slackness on that (the Opposition) side of the House to exempt Dissenters. Full relief was offered by the Conservative Government when they were in office; it was recommended in the Report of the Committee of the House of Lords which sat hist year, and Bills emanating from that (the Opposition) side of the House were now on the table; so that every opportunity had been offered to Dissenters to come to terms if there really was any grievance which they conscientiously felt. The speech, however, of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) on Wednesday last, bad shown that that grievance was a mere sham. The hon. Member, with his usual boldness, gave an account of the real motives which animated what be would term the political Dissenters, The hon. Member did not complain of any individual grievance. His speech was one long bill of indictment against the Church of England; and his object was not merely to put down church rates, but the Church. The hon. Member read extracts from the newspapers of "Sales by Auction" to show that simony prevailed in the Church, and he read extracts from Essays and Reviews in order to show that heresy also prevailed in the Church. The speech of the hon. Member was, in short, the direct converse to the speech delivered to-day by the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Ball). On the one side there was simply a conscientious desire to be exonerated from a grievance; on the other dissent was made a mere cloak for political designs, and the opposition of the hon. Member for Birmingham to church rates was but the prelude to an attempt to level the Church itself to the ground. No one was more aware of the nature of a dissenting agitation than the noble Lord the Member for the City of London; and so sensitive was the noble Lord on the subject, that he had not hesitated to sacrifice the consistency of his former life rather than face it. It was in vain to suppose that, if they gave way upon this point, peace would be the result; for the hon. Member for Birmingham 1511 had told them in plain language that church rates were not the only or the greatest mark of supremacy on the part of the Church—in other words, he had intimated that church rates were not the only object of plunder; therefore the sacrifice of them would only be a prelude to an attack upon tithes and church rates; and tithes down, endowments would fall next, and after them that the Bishops should be ejected from the House of Lords. The time for promoting a compromise seemed to be utterly gone. There were left to them the chances of war, and it might be of victory, but at any rate they had obtained delay, and delay was life. They had kept church rates alive for thirty years, and with their present numbers they could keep them alive ten years longer; at any rate, they might keep tithes twenty years after that, and endowments twenty years longer still. That brought them to fifty years, and that period was something in the life of a nation. Who could tell what changes might have passed upon England and the world when fifty years shall have elapsed? Supposing every other hope gone then, there was still the hope of delay. As long as there was any chance of coming to fair terms, he should have been ready to consider them; but as the time had come for fighting everything, he said, "Fight every inch." At the pass to which things had come, it was better to defend the outworks at once than to let the enemy advance further. After the sentiments uttered by the hon. Member for Birmingham on this question last Wednesday, it seemed that those who had been willing to consider an arrangement had no alternative but to place themselves with those whose motto was "No surrender." He should gladly have done anything to meet the scruples of those who objected to the payment of church rates on conscientious grounds; but as they were now fighting for dear life—for the existence or nonexistence of the Church—he would vote for every Motion and would join in every course that could prolong the existence of church rates and put off the evil day of the supremacy of dissent.
§ VISCOUNT ENFIELD
said, that if the ton. Member for North Warwickshire pressed his Motion to a division he should feel compelled to vote against it; hut, as an earnest and sincere member of the Church of England, he could not avoid expressing his sorrow at the tone which had been assumed in the discussion of this question by some hon. Gentlemen on his side of 1512 the House. He had always voted for the abolition of church rates upon two grounds; first, because he thought that relief should be given to conscientious Dissenters, and, secondly, because he believed the Church was so firmly established in the affections of the great mass of the people that she did not depend for her independence or her stability upon the miserable sum contributed by means of church rates for the maintenance of her fabrics. But he must protest in the strongest language at his command against the tone adopted and the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for Birmingham upon the occasion of the second reading of the present Bill. He was persuaded that those sentiments would tend only to embitter a feud which had already lasted too long, and to deprive the Bill of the support of many Churchmen who were anxious to relieve Dissenters, but who would resist any further attack upon the Church with respect either to tithes or to endowments. It was matter of regret that the Government had not announced their intention to propose in Committee some compromise which might be regarded by all moderate parties as a fair settlement of the question. The House would remember that in 1856 a certain proposal was made by the right hon. Gentleman who now held the office of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (Sir George Grey). He was sorry that the Government had not considered it their duty to renew that proposal, or to submit something like it on the present occasion, for no one could be more anxious than himself that some reasonable compromise should be adopted. Year after year the battle would be fought with greater asperity; for it was clear from the sentiments uttered by some on Wednesday last that they were not anxious for the abolition of church rates, but that they cherished ulterior designs.
§ MR. ANDREW STEUART
said, he trusted, notwithstanding what had been said the other day, the spirit of conciliation would prevail in Parliament and the country; and his hope in seconding the Amendment was that the discussion would bring about some fair and reasonable settlement. In the present divided state of parties he thought the Government ought to come forward with some plan of equitable adjustment. The slender majority of fifteen in favour of the second reading of the Bill, did not accurately describe the division of opinion upon the sub- 1513 ject. He had asked the noble Viscount at the head of the Government whether the House could not proceed by way of Resolution; and he (Mr. Steuart) had observed that, as one mode of settlement a plan had been proposed by which some seats in a church should be free and others let at a certain rent, to such a plan he could readily accede. He regretted the course taken by the hon. Member for Birmingham on this subject. But it had been the unhappy fate of the hon. Member to put back many questions which he had advocated. The fact of the desire for reform being now so much subdued in this country was greatly owing to his arrogant pretensions, and it was extremely likely that the lands of the Church party would be strengthened by the course he had adopted in regard to church rates. The old Nonconformists, to whom the hon. Member said the liberties of England were chiefly owing, would have spoken in a very different tone of the doctrines set out in the Essays and Reviews and which had emanated from members of the Church of England. For his own part he was in favour of concession, and any proposition for the relief of conscientious Dissenters, and the maintenance of the right of the Church to have its fabrics supported in rural parishes would receive his cordial and ready assent. He agreed with the Bishop of Exeter and the distinguished writer in The Times who signed himself "A Hertfordshire Incumbent" that the rate should be limited to the maintenance of the fabrics of the Church, and, in the words of the Archbishop of Canterbury, he desired that Parliament should enact a law, making payment compulsory upon Churchmen only. The hon. Gentleman concluded by advising the hon. Member for North Warwickshire to withdraw his Amendment.
§ SIR JOHN TRELAWNY
said the noble Lord opposite (Lord Robert Cecil) talked of another fifty years' strife, and appeared to think that, as the Church has survived agitation during that period, it was a comfortable reflection that she might survive another such period; but had he considered what that meant? Fifty years might be a long time in the life of a man, but a statesman ought to look further. Besides the vitality of the Church during the last thirty years had in great measure been caused by the legislation of modern times, which had placed tithes on a fixed and permanent footing entirely different from that of church rates. Against the dictum of the 1514 hon. Member for Warwickshire, that church rates were a charge upon property, he would set the authority of Dr. Lushington and the present Lord Chancellor, who had declared that church rates were not a tax upon property, but a personal liability. The hon. Gentleman had constantly dwelt on the argument of spoliation. There might have been something in that if he bad been prepared to maintain the law in its entirety; but seeing that he proposed to limit the charge to 2d. in the pound, and to abolish it altogether in places where church rates had not, been made for seven years, he (Sir John Trelawny) did not clearly perceive how the hon. Member could take his stand on the argument of spoliation. Again, when he proposed to substitute owners for occupiers, as payers of the tax, whom did the right hon. Gentleman mean by "owners,"—the owners in fee simple or the owners of long leases? At present the church rate could not be exacted from absentees; but the hon. Gentleman proposed to extend it to them, though they derived no benefit or contributed to other churches, and some might be Dissenters, who being perhaps wealthy would resist payment and leave litigation as intense as ever. In every way the Amendment would only perpetuate and increase the injustice which already existed, and he must, therefore, give it his opposition.
§ MR. SELWYN
thought the House must acknowledge that the hon. Member for North Warwickshire had proposed his Amendment in a moderate and conciliatory speech. He believed his proposition to be far preferable to the total abolition of church rates; but, considering the turn which the debate had taken, considering the tone and temper of the House, considering that the hon. Baronet the Member for Tavistock and his friends seemed disposed to reject all compromise, and considering also the great differences of opinion which existed among Churchmen as to whether any further offers of compromise should be made, he thought the hon. Member for North Warwickshire would do well not to press his Amendment to a division.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
hoped that he could not justly be charged with presumption for the manner he had brought forward his Amendment. It related to a subject which he had long considered, and he thought his proposal deserved the consideration of the House. He wished, how- 1515 ever, to persevere in the spirit in which he had begun, and would not, therefore, reject the advice tendered to him by his hon. Friend, the Member for Cambridge University. In deference to that counsel he would, by permission of the House, withdraw his Amendment.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ House in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1 (Church Rates Abolished),
§ MR. CROSS
moved in line 12 to leave out—In any parish in England and Wales," and insert "respectively in the following cases in any parish in England or Wales:—First. No Church Rate shall be made or levied in any parish in which no Church Rate has been made or levied during the seven years next previous to the passing of this Act;Secondly. No Church Rate shall be levied upon any person who shall have delivered or sent by post to the churchwardens during the month of January in such year a declaration, under his hand, that he bonâ fide objects to the payment of Church Rates: Provided always, That no person so exempted shall be entitled during such year to vote or act in vestry in the parish in reference to the making, levying, or application of any Church Rate, or the application of any money applicable to like purposes.Thirdly. No Church Rate shall be made for other than the following purposes—I. Repairing and maintaining the fabric of the parish church. II. Repairing and maintaining the churchyard or burial ground of the parish church.He was induced to bring the proposal before the House, because he believed there was a large party in it which was still in favour of a conciliatory settlement of this question and for that reason deprecated the tone which had been assumed alike by the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) and the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Lord Robert Cecil). It appeared to him that the question was one that ought to be met in the spirit of conciliation; and that hon. Members had not paid sufficient attention either to the nature of the rate on the one hand, or of the grievance complained of on the other. It was admitted to be the duty of each parish to maintain its church, but if it refused to do so there was no power to compel it. It was, therefore, idle to talk of the rate as if it were a charge upon land which could not be got rid of; and it seemed to him that hon. Members on his side of the House took rather too high ground. On the other hand, the grievance of the conscientious Dissenters, so far as it was really 1516 felt, was one that he was sure every churchman would gladly consent to remove. Formerly, the abolition of church rates was never advocated on any other ground than that of the objection of the conscientious Dissenter against them, now it was a mere political cry which some hon. Gentlemen with ulterior views would be very sorry to have taken out of their hands. If, however, it could be removed, there would be removed with it a great source of weakness and danger to the Establishment. What then was the remedy that ought to be applied? The remedy they should seek should be founded on principle and not on expediency. The principle of the church rate was, that if a majority of voters in any parish objected to the rate, the rate could not be levied; and where a rate had been proposed in parishes year after year, and rejected, the discontinuance might on sound principle be decreed. It would only be an extension of the statute of limitations, or of the principle that rights might accrue from user. According to the Returns before the House, the practical effect of his first proposal would be that the church rate would cease in towns, and that in almost all rural parishes it would continue. There would then be established that distinction between town and country which had been so often pointed out. In the towns the parish church had in many cases become merely the church of a district; and there was seldom any difficulty in raising funds for maintaining the edifice. In the country, however, the church was still the church of the parish. But cases might arise in which, from the proprietors happening to be Dissenters or Roman Catholics, the members of the Establishment would be unable to bear the burden of the keeping up the fabric. For this proposal he had the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and also of the Government of 1856, which included the noble Lord the Member for the City and the right hon. Baronet the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey). With such distinguished authorities on his side he thought his proposition deserved at least the attention of the House. In his next proposition, that of exemption, he did not wish to draw any hard line between Churchmen and Dissenters. The Church was the Church of the country, and he did not think it just to compel a man to declare himself a Dissenter. There could be no hardship, however, in making him declare every year that he had a bonâ fide objection to church 1517 rates; and the only disability he proposed that that declaration should involve would be that those who refused to pay the rate should have no voice in spending it. To his third proposition Dissenters could surely not object; for they had the use of the church and churchyard, and in point of fact they were constantly availing themselves of them. He had other proposals on the paper for making the clergyman and churchwardens a body corporate with perpetual succession, for the purpose of receiving endowments; but those would come at a later period of the Bill.
§ On the first paragraph of the Amendment being proposed,
§ SIR JOHN TRELAWNY
objected to the Amendment, because it was inconsistent with the object of the Bill.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
urged the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Cross) to follow the example so well set by his hon. Friend the Member for Warwick shire and withdraw his propositions. The prevailing opinion on both sides of the House was that the Bill should be considered as a measure for the abolition of church rates rather than as an opportunity for effecting a compromise.
§ MR. CROSS
said, he felt bound to bring the question before the House, having given way to a similar expression of opinion in the course of last year. Still, he should be prepared to adopt the suggestion of the noble Lord if he saw any prospect of settling the question in a conciliatory spirit. He was not aware whether he should interpret the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Lord Robert Cecil) to mean that the Bill which bore his name should not be proceeded with any further; and, therefore, he should be glad to know whether there was any prospect of some substantive Motion being brought before the House dealing with this question in a conciliatory spirit. It was a very serious matter to say on that side of the House not merely that they would not pass a conciliatory measure but would not even consider it.
said, he thought the proposition of the hon. Member was founded on justice and well calculated to meet the views of those on the other side who were constantly tolling them that they were open to conciliation if any means of compromise could be proposed. Here, then, were the terms of a compromise so simple and so equitable that the proposition ought to be adopted by the House. He had just come from a protracted canvass of a large con- 1518 stituency, in which Dissent largely prevailed, and he could state to the House the opinion there was that this question of church rates should be settled as speedily as possible; and that church rates, so far as Dissenters were concerned, should be abolished. If, however, no compromise could be effected he believed it would be better for the interests of religion, morality, and the Church of England that church rates should be abolished altogether. However, it was clear they had not on that: side of the House arrived at that despairing I state of mind in regard to the subject. He was glad to observe the tone of the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex, and he believed there was a very general desire throughout the country that some compromise should be effected that would give triumph to neither party. Could the House, then, in reason object to the very moderate proposition which would allow Churchmen to tax themselves for Church purposes? The short time he had sat in that House had already taught him that the Nonconformist body were misrepresented so far as their real opinions were concerned. During his canvass he had the opportunity of frequent discussions with many who opposed church rates on various grounds; but he found that many of the strongest Dissenters entertained towards the Church anything but the implacable animosity attributed to them by the hon. Member for Birmingham. On the contrary, he believed the vast majority of the Dissenting body, though naturally disinclined to contribute to any object from which they derived no benefit, and while they maintained their own places of worship, considered the Church of England itself a great advantage to the country, as holding a place which they themselves were unable to occupy, and that to denationalize it would be most disastrous. At the same time they were anxious to get rid of this obnoxious impost. He thought the Government might undertake the subject in a spirit of conciliation; looking to the tone of this discussion a glorious opportunity of settling it was before them, and if they chose to avail themselves of it they would command the confidence and win the gratitude of all moderate parties in the country.
§ MR. ADDERLEY
congratulated the House on the acquisition of a new Member who had shown such an admirable spirit and so much ability. In that hon. Gentleman a new element of conciliation had been introduced into their repeated 1519 discussions. It was also most gratifying that he represented a most important county town (Leicester), known for its Dissenting feeling, and, coming fresh from an election contest, could speak as he did of the conciliatory feeling among Dissenters. This showed how little the feeling of Dissenters generally was expressed by that body calling itself their representative in London—he meant the Liberation Society. Whilst, however, he was opposed to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Preston, he thought that it was much more consistent with the preamble of the Bill than the clauses of the Bill itself. The preamble said, "Whereas church rates have ceased to be levied in certain places;" but the Bill went on to say that therefore in no places should church rates be levied. This question must he divided into two main divisions, namely, as it affected populous parishes, and as it affected rural places; although, however, the Amendment corresponded more logically with the preamble than the clauses of the Bill itself, he, nevertheless, did not think it wise to introduce it as an Amendment to the first clause of the Bill. In a Bill professing to be for the abolition of church rates, the Amendment was irrelevant and could lead to no proper conclusion. He hoped that his hon. Friend would yield to the suggestion given him, and withdraw his Amendment, until they had disposed of the Bill itself, when he might bring his proposition forward as a substantive measure. The House had appeared to have become more aware of the fact than it had previously been that no compromise was possible. It appeared to him that the present state of the law was more satisfactory than any change likely to be effected by any of the Amendments proposed. He denied that there was any hardship in it. There was a common law responsibility for the repair and restoration of churches, subject to the votes of the ratepayers concerned. In like manner Parliament was responsible for keeping up the services of the country, subject to the consent of a majority of its constituent members. There was no anomaly in such a state of the law. He thought it was an absurdity to seek to change the rate from a national rate, the only ground upon which it could rest, to a partial rate, a foundation on which it could not be defended. Even those who were favourable to a compromise would do much better if they dealt in the first instance with the proposition of 1520 abolition in the Bill itself, and when that was disposed of to consider if any measure could be adopted for a better settlement of the matter so as to conciliate the feelings of all parties. At all events he objected to any attempt at the present stage to introduce an Amendment such as had been proposed.
MR. BANKS STANHOPE
said, he was quite in favour of a compromise being carried out upon some such terms as were proposed by the hon. Member for Preston: he, however, should regret to see the hon. Member press it forward on the present occasion, when it could not possibly obtain a favourable consideration. He denied that the hon. Member for Birmingham represented the opinions of the Nonconformists upon this question. He concurred in the representation of the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Heygate) as to the feelings of the Nonconformists, and especially of the Wesleyans, in relation to the national Church; and for himself had always found that body to be decidedly in favour of the union of Church and State, and that they regarded the Church with great love. He did not think that any compromise on this subject could be made with the hon. Member for Birmingham; but, as a Christian, he wished, in the interests of the Church, to offer such a compromise as all might agree to. The hon. Member for Birmingham was not justified in saying that they on his (Mr. Stanhope's) side of the House were desirous of offering a compromise from a feeling that they had been beaten on this question. The very contrary was the fact. The party with whom he acted had been growing in strength up to the present time, as was testified by the 5,000 petitions presented in favour of the retention of this impost, and by the decreasing majorities in favour of this measure for the last few years. In 1859 the majority for the second reading was 70. In 1860 it had declined to 29, and in 1861 it was reduced as low as 15. It was curious to observe that, with those diminished majorities, the spirit of conciliation in the party with whom he acted had increased. Those facts, he thought, furnished a triumphant answer to the unfounded assertions of the hon. Member for Birmingham.
§ MR. HENEAGE
said, he was sorry to find that the proposal of the hon. Member for Preston did not meet with that support which he thought it deserved; and, although a Bill would undoubtedly be the more regular mode of bringing it forward, 1521 he hoped the hon. Gentleman would persevere with his Amendment in its present form. If he did, he should have his support, and no doubt that also of many independent country Gentlemen on both sides of the House. If they did not carry their point on this occasion, he trusted they would live to see the day when they would. The right hon. Member for Staffordshire (Mr. Adderley) said he was quite content with the law as it stood; but he (Mr. Heneage) was bound to say, on the other hand, that he considered the law in a most unsatisfactory state.
§ SIR JOHN PAKINGTON
said he could not refrain from saying that this was the first debate upon the subject of church rates to which he had listened with anything like pleasure. He drew most favourable inferences from the tone which had pervaded the speeches on both sides of the House. He hailed with the most sincere satisfaction the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord the Member for Middlesex (Viscount Enfield). Connected as the noble Lord was with a party which had always been attached to the Church, he rejoiced that he had declined to lend himself to those designs which had been openly avowed by some hon. Members opposite. He (Sir John Pakington) was most anxious for the adoption of some arrangement that would have the effect of reconciling all parties, and although he joined in the request to his hon. Friend the Member for Preston to withdraw his Amendment, let him not suppose from that fact that there was no wish on their part for conciliation. He was a member of the Government three years ago that had brought forward the only proposal that had ever been made by a Ministry on this question with a view to a due consideration of this question. The difficulty of a compromise was greatly increased by the manner in which the proposal of conciliation on their parts had been met. The evidence given before the Committee of the House of Lords as to the real objects of those who were in favour of abolition, and the language used by the hon. Member for Birmingham on the second reading of this measure, went far to change the grounds of the question at issue, and to render the difficulties of any compromise much greater than they were before. But the language used by the hon. Member for Birmingham had not changed those opinions with which he was actuated in regard to this question in 1858. He was desirous of seeing this 1522 question settled on the principle of reasonable concession. He quite concurred with those hon. Gentlemen who thought that the present state of the law was unsatisfactory. He considered that it was injurious to the Church, as well as distasteful to Dissenters. Although the language of Dissenters had changed very much of late on this subject, he was, nevertheless, free to admit that there were many members of that body who, whether right or wrong, did entertain conscientious objections to the payment of this impost. The interests of the Church of England required some alterations to be made in this law. Churchmen, however, could not expect that their views would be accepted by all parties, unless they evinced a readiness to make some concessions. He was anxious, then, that this question should be settled, not only for the interests of the Church and of religion, but also in order to put an end to that annual squabble which now took place on the subject of the means by which the fabric of the Church should be maintained—a state of things which he looked upon as a scandal to religion and a serious evil. He, therefore, hoped from the discussion of that day they should arrive at a satisfactory settlement of this question. He joined in the request that the hon. Member for Preston would not press his Amendment. He could not think that the best mode of arriving at an arrangement of the question could be in the shape of an Amendment to a Bill designed for a totally different purpose.
§ MR. HUBBARD
said, he had been appealed to respecting the fate of a Bill to which his own name and that of the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Lord R. Cecil) were attached. That Bill stood for next Wednesday, but it would hardly be respectful to the House to ask them to enter into the consideration of the amendment of a law which they had by a majority upon a second reading voted to abolish. The fate of that Bill, he must say, would depend upon the course taken by hon. Gentlemen opposite. They had now before them a measure which had been advocated on very different grounds. The hon Baronet who brought it forward spoke with perfect courtesy and frankness of the motives which induced him to introduce it; but the hon. Member for Birmingham gave an entirely different version of the principles on which it was supported. He had himself at first looked on it as a measure 1523 intended for the relief of Dissenters. It was to accomplish that same object, without injury to the Church, that, with his noble Friend's assistance, he had prepared the Bill to which he had referred; and although he had been told that ulterior views were entertained he had resolved to disregard them, and direct his attention to the point that really called for solution. But after what had occurred last Wednesday he could not deny the evidence of his senses, or doubt that something much more serious and formidable than the mere abolition of church rates was before the country. It was a question affecting, not the pecuniary resources, but the very life of the Church as an established Church. It might be said that such was not the opinion of the promoters of the Bill; but when he looked behind the scenes and saw the conduct of those who were carrying it through the provinces and getting up petitions in its favour, he could not but believe that its advocates entertained the most revolutionary designs. They described the Church in terms of the utmost opprobrium, and regarded it as a nuisance and a curse, which ought to be got rid of. There was to be what the hon. Member for Binning-ham characterized as a struggle for supremacy; and as soon as the House and the country understood that they would quickly put aside this minor question. They were to have a brood of Bills based on a similar principle to that on church rates. Among them was a Bill for taking possession of the churchyards; that was, for destroying the only law by which the sanctity of those places could be preserved. It was very well to talk of the feelings of Dissenters, but were Churchmen to be considered as having no feelings? were they not entitled to have religious liberty, or was their reverence for the dead not to be respected? If hon. Members opposite would separate themselves from these schemes and accede to some fair measure of concession, he, for one, would cordially meet them in the same spirit.
§ MR. SPOONER
joined in the request made to the hon. Member fur Preston, that he should withdraw his Amendment. He was most anxious to see a compromise come to on this question, and sincerely believed that, with proper management, that object could be attained. The hon. Member for Preston's first Amendment would exclude from the benefit of a compromise those parishes in which church rates had not been levied for the last seven 1524 years. The speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham had produced a wonderful effect in that town, some of the leading Dissenters of which, although opposed to church rates, disclaimed the hostility to the Established Church lately expressed by that hon. Gentleman.
§ MR. ANDREW STEUART
thought that if the hon. Member for Preston consented to withdraw his proposal he would be playing the game of the hon. Member for Birmingham. The question was not whether the first Amendment must necessarily be adopted, but whether they would consider all or any of the three Amendments which had been placed on the paper.
appealed to the hon. Member for Preston not to be so ill-advised as to press this matter to a division now, as he could not hope to obtain a fair expression of the opinion of the House upon it.
§ MR. CROSS
rejoiced at the course the debate on his Amendments had taken, because he believed that a more earnest desire had been evinced than had, perhaps, been shown on other occasions to arrive at some fair settlement of that vexed question. In deference to the generally expressed feeling of the Committee he would not now press for a division, but take an early opportunity to place a Bill on the table embodying the principles of these Amendments. He regretted that none of Her Majesty's Ministers had been present during the discussion, because if they had been they would have seen a stronger feeling in favour of a settlement of the question at once than on any former occasion. Some of his Resolutions would, he thought, have been approved by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. In former years they had received the support of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the noble Lord at the head of the Government.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
moved the insertion of words providing that no money raised under any other rate should be applied to the purposes for which church rates were levied. He proposed that Amendment to meet the cases in which church rates were exacted under the guise of poor rates. That was now done in several metropolitan parishes under the authority of certain local Acts.
§ MR. SOTHERON ESTCOURT
pointed out that in his opinion the hon. Gen- 1525 tleman would weaken his own case if this Amendment should be agreed to, because if this charge of misappropriation was correct there was a simple remedy open to the ratepayers under the present law. If the Amendment were necessary it could be made on bringing up the Report.
§ MR. SELWYN
opposed the Amendment, because he believed there were many parishes in which, under local Acts of Parliament, a portion of the poor rate could be applied to church purposes; and what the Committee were asked to do was to repeal all those Acts without knowing anything of their contents.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
withdrew his Amendment, leaving its subject to be inquired into by the Select Committee on the Poor Laws.
§ Clause agreed to, as were the remaining Clauses.
§ House resumed.
§ Bill reported, without Amendment, to be read 3° on Tuesday next.
§ House adjourned at ten minutes before Six o'clock.