§ Order for Second, Reading read.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, he was very desirous to explain the nature of the measure, because a very considerable amount of misunderstanding and misapprehension prevailed in reference to 1510 its provisions. Two years ago his hon. Friend the Member for Poole (Mr. Henry Seymour) called attention to the Subject of the Ecclesiastical Statutes, by a Motion of a very wide and extensive character, which proposed that the whole of them should be consolidated. The Government was not prepared to embark in so large a scheme; but they promised to see whether a certain portion of the Acts bearing on the subject, namely, those commonly known as the Church Building Acts, could not be consolidated. One of the most eminent ecclesiastical lawyers of the day, under instructions from the Lord Chancellor, prepared the draft of a Bill for the purpose of effecting that object; and it became his own duty to revise and finally settle the form of a Bill from the draft So prepared by Dr. Stephens, and having done so he introduced it to the House. In performing that duty he laid down for his own guidance the principle of avoiding, as far as he could do so, the introduction of any material changes into the law on subjects of importance on which there were divided opinions in that House and out of doors. His wish was to avoid every innovation Whatever in the substance of the laws of the Church; and the difficulties which he had to experience in effecting that object were more formidable than at first sight they might seem to be. The case was one in which the mere collection and re-enactment of all the Various provisions of the existing law, without any amendment or alteration of those provisions, was impossible; and, accordingly, both the draft Bill originally prepared by Dr. Stephens, and the Bill introduced by himself, contained Various Amendments, principally for the purpose of simphfying and reducing into harmony the confusion and inconsistency which was found to exist in some of the details of the Acts which it was desired to consolidate. Some of these Acts contained provisions expressly relating to the subject of church rates; and these provisions Dr. Stephens, in the proper discharge of the duty intrusted to him, embodied in his draft. The Government, however, felt, that the passing of the measure might be endangered, if these provisions continued to form part of it; and, on the other hand, it was not prepared to repeal them. It was, therefore, determined, neither to consolidate nor to repeal those parts of the former Acts, which related to the levying of church rates for particular purposes; but to allow them to remain in force as originally enacted. On 1511 the second reading of the Bill some reference was triads to a question which had then lately arisen before the Courts of Law, as to church rates in new parishes; and he then stated that it was quite impossible for the Government to propose in such a Bill any interference with that subject. The object of the Bill was to simplify and consolidate the Church Building Acts; but the Government were not anxious to, in any way, embark in the settlement of the church rate question by means of that measure. The Bill was referred to: a Select Committee, and he must say that that Committee, in which various opinions were represented, took a great deal of pains with the Bill, and the members of the Committee adopted the same view as that held by the Government—namely, that no attempt should be made by that Bill to introduce any extension of the principle of church rates, or any provision for the abolition of those rates. The hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. Remington Mills) moved to introduce in a particular clause words which would have had the effect of providing that church rates should not be levied in new parishes; but all the other members of the Committee, including two hon. Friends of his own, who always voted for the abolition of church rates, voted against the Motion of the hon. Member for Wycombe, on the ground that it was not a part of the object of the Bill to use it as an opportunity of introducing any important alteration of the law with respect to church rates. The Bill passed through Committee, and the Committee went farther than he had ventured to do when introducing the Bill to the House; for they recommended that clauses should be introduced consolidating, and therefore reenacting, those provisions of the former Acts, expressly relating to church rates, which had been left unrepealed but had not been consolidated. They thought the Bill would not be perfect unless it included all enactments, which it was not proposed to alter. While wishing to pay every deference to the decision of the Committee, he had, nevertheless, felt bound to deal with the Bill in an independent way, when the question arose of introducing it again. He still thought that the recommendation of the Committee would lead to a contest of opinions on the subject of church rates, when the additional clauses came to be considered; and, therefore, he thought it would be more advisable to adhere to the origin a decision of the Government, and neither con- 1512 solidate nor repeal the church rate clauses by means of such a Bill. He, therefore, prepared a Bill on that footing, which was in other respects, in substance, as it passed the Select Committee. After it was introduced, a great deal of discussion took place out of doors, and one particular clause was regarded by a large body out of doors and by some hon. Members in that House as having the very effect which the Government desired to avoid in bringing forward the measure—namely, as altering the status quo upon the subject of church rates. Under these circumstances, it became a matter for the serious consideration of the Government how far that objection, whether well or ill-founded, might prove a practical obstacle to the passing of the measure, and also how far it might be met by a modification of the Bill. It had been seriously represented, notwithstanding the engagements which had been given that there should be as far as possible an evenhanded balance held between both parties on the subject, yet that an attempt was made in life Bill to extend the law of church rates to castes in which it was not applicable under the present law. He trusted that there were not many hon. Members who believed him to be personally capable of such an attempt. To say, indeed, that a Government, the greater part of whose Members were in the habit of voting for the abolition of church rates, would be parties to such a scheme would be too unreasonable for any one to believe. Because, however, he was known to be individually in favour of some provision being made for the maintenance of the fabrics of the Established Church, it was inferred by some that he might be capable of abusing the opportunities he enjoyed, and of endeavouring to do indirectly that which he had said he should endeavour to avoid. This rendered it necessary, that he should explain to the House, in a little detail, how the case as to church rates in new parishes really stood under the existing law, and show that there was nothing in the present Bill which could possibly have the effect of making such parishes liable to church rates, unless they were already so liable. There were twelve principal Acts relating to the creation of new parishes, and two principal classes of new parishes to which those Acts referred. The first class were new parishes under the Acts anterior to those of Sir Robert Peel and Lord Blandford, of 1843 and 1856, and the other class were new 1513 parishes under the feel and Blandford Acts of 1843 and 1856. The first class consisted of new parishes which by the express enactments of the Acts under which they were founded were authorized to raise church rates within themselves for the purpose of repairing their own churches, but were also saddled with contributions to the mother church for-twenty years. Some persons had fallen into the error of supposing that Parliament had decided against the principle of allowing church rates to be levied for these new parishes. The original Acts which enabled district parishes to be created were the Million Acts of 1818–19, and by the express terms of the 70th section of the first Act it was enacted that—The repairs of all such district churches or chapels shall be made fey the districts to which they respectively belong, by rates to be raised within the district in like manner as in case of repairs of churches by parishes, and every such district shall be deemed in law a separate and distinct parish for that purpose.Section 71 of that Act superadded, by way of proviso, a continued liability to be rated also to the repair of the original parish church for twenty years from the consecration of the district church or chapel. Since that time no less than seven later Acts, passed in 1822, 1824, 1831, 1838, 1845, 1848, and 1851, referred to these provisions of the Million Acts for the creation of "separate and distinct parishes," and "district parishes," with all the incidents and consequences attached to them by the Million Acts, as in full force and effect, and contained a variety of further enactments facilitating and extending their application to cases to which they did not originally apply. There were also powers in the Million Acts and some of the later Acts for building, rebuilding, and enlarging churches by means of church rates. The Government might, with far more justice than there was in the charge now made against them, have been exposed to the imputation of legislating, by this Bill, too much in favour of the views of those who were opposed to church rates in new parishes; because, 6y the process of consolidation and simplification adapted in this Bill they had swept away entirely the whole of the machinery by which those "district parishes," and "distinct and separate parishes," to which the power of levying church rates for the support of their churches was expressly attached, could be called into existence under the 1514 provisions of the Million Acts and the rest of that series of statutes; and if the Bill should pass as it left the Committee, there could no longer be any new parishes that would have expressly conferred upon them the power of raising church rates. The Government and the Select Committee had adopted in that consolidation the simplest form of new parishes — namely, the form of the Peel and Blandford Acts, and they had proposed to abolish for the future the earlier forms under which the power of raising church rates was expressly conferred. That was not done in order to affect the subject of church rates, but because it was thought better, for other reasons, to get rid of the older machinery; and they did not consider, in so doing, whether they would or would not diminish the area within which the law of church rates might be applied. The Peel and Blandford Acts of 1843 and 1856 had introduced a new description of parishes; and as some differences of form existed, involving more important considerations, it was thought desirable to reduce all to one single model, and to adopt, for this purpose, the latest form—namely, that of Lord Blandford's Act. Sir Robert Peel in 1843, when he proposed that Queen Anne's bounty should advance £600,000 for the creation of new districts, introduced a Bill for the creation of those new districts. He proposed to endow districts which had not churches at the time of endowing them, hoping; that private benefactors would provide churches, and his Bill proposed that as soon as a church was consecrated for any district, it should become a new parish for ecclesiastical purposes. There was not one word in that Act, one way or the other, about church rates, and from that circumstance it had been inferred that these new parishes would not have the same incidents as to church rates which the older class of new parishes possessed. It had also been asserted that Sir Robert Peel made some declaration of his own intentions on that subject; but he was bound to say that he had not been able to discover that Sir Robert Peel had left on record any such declaration of his intentions. In 1828 Sir Robert Peel was said to have declared that it was not expedient to apply the law of church rates to any new parishes; but nothing could be a greater mistake than that representation. In the first place, the facts already stated showed, that, long after 1828, Sir Robert Peel's Government and other Governments 1515 which followed were parties to an extension of the system of the new parishes, created under the Million Acts, to which church rates were expressly annexed. Sirs Robert Peel's declaration in 1828 was, that he did not propose to devolve upon the Church Building Society the power of imposing church rates upon any parish. That was quite true. But he said that, on bringing in a Bill to incorporate that society and empower them not to make new parishes, but simply to receive voluntary contributions for the building and repairing of churches and chapels. There was at that time no legislation at all proposed on the subject of new parishes. Whatever might have been Sir Robert Peel's opinion in 1843, he did not at any time leave it on record; but he (the Attorney General) entirely agreed that the general impression and belief was that the effect of his legislation in 1843 differed from that of the earlier Acts, and that it would not allow church rates to be levied in what were called the Peel parishes. The next stage of legislation upon this subject was the introduction of Lord Blandford's Bill. That was first introduced in 1855, and the measure founded upon it became law in the following year. As to that also there was some misapprehension. In the first place that Bill was in no sense a Government Bill, as was stated at the time by his right hon. Friend the Secretary for the Home Department; it was no introduced with sanction of the Government, though they approved its object. Lord Blandford desired to extend, as far as might be, to all districts the principle of the new parishes under Sir Robert Peel's Act, and more particularly to permit the creation of parishes of that description in districts where there were churches already. When the Bill was introduced it contained a clause expressly dealing with church rates. It was this effict—No church rate levied within any parish shall be applicable to any but the church and to the church purposes of such parish.In his speech upon the introduction of the Bill, Lord Blandford said—The districts (i.e. district parishes) were liable for twenty years to the rates of the mother church, and, as no benefit was derived, the district churchmen frequently refused the rates more from this reason than from any disapproval of the church as a great national institution. … The simple remedy, which he had endeavoured to embody in this Bill with respect to this question, was to declare that no church rate should be levied in a district which was not ap- 1516 plied to the church of that district. … No church rates were to be collected in any new parish, except for the support of its own church.When, therefore, that Bill was introduced, its author intended to enable church rates to be raised for the new parishes which he proposed to create. But the Bill was referred to a Select Committee, and came out very altered, and amongst other changes that clause had disappeared. When it was afterwards considered in Committee in this House very little discussion took place. Sir W. Clay asked whether the second clause in constituting separate parishes, would confer upon those parishes the right of levying church rates. Lord Blandford said positively that that would not be the effect of the clause—that the parishes thereby constituted would to all intents and purposes resemble those formed by Sir Robert Peel's Act, under which, as was known, no church rate could be levied. That statement of Lord Blandford might or might not have been correctly understood at the time, but hon. Gentlemen would do well to read the second clause upon which the question was asked, and the answer given. That clause merely provided for the creation of additional parishes in districts which had already a church, Sir Robert Peel's Act having provided for similar object in districts without churches. The Peel parishes were expressly the subject of that clause, and no doubt Lord Blandford expressed his apprehension that these parishes would not be able, under that clause, to levy church rates. But the material clause in the Act, and one which might have the most important bearing upon the question, was not the 2nd, but was the 15th which did not stand now as it did when this conversation took place. At that time the 15th clause wanted seven or eight lines with which it now concluded. It provided that the resident inhabitants of every new parish, whether constituted under the Peel or Blandford Acts,Shall for all ecclesiastical purposes be parishioners thereof and of no other parish, and such new parish shall for the like purposes have and possess all the same rights and privileges, and be: affected with: such and; the same liabilities as are incident or belong to a distinct and separate parish.There the clause stopped originally, and in that state it passed, not only through the Select Committee, but also through the Committee of this House. It was not till the Report, that, on the Motion of the hon. Baronet the Member for the Univer- 1517 sity of Oxford (Sir William Heathcote), these important words were added—And to no other liabilities: provided always that nothing herein contained shall be taken to affect the legal liabilities of any parish regulated by a local Act of Parliament, or the security for any loan of money legally borrowed under any Act of Parliament or otherwise.The saving of securities for monies borrowed under an Act of Parliament could scarcely have reference to anything but monies borrowed on the security of rates; and these words were very likely added for the express purpose of producing, or making more clear, the effect which some supposed now to be produced by the clause. That was the form in which Lard Blandford's Act passed; and this was the stale in which Her Majesty's present Government found the matter, with the addition that in the autumn of 1862 the question as to the effect of the Peel and Blandford Acts was raised in a suit about a church rate at Shrewsbury—the case of "Gough v Jones"—in which Dr. Lushington held, not that Church rates might be raised for the repair of the church of a new parish, but that the inhabitants of a new parish were not liable to the church rate levied for the Church of the mother parish. It had occurred to many persons since, and he believed the opinion had been acted upon, that the converse proposition ought also to hold, and that if the new parish were exonerated from the church rate levied in the old parish, it would be entitled, on the same principle, to raise a church rate for its own purposes. Dr. Lushington in his judgment did not proceed upon the interpretation of Lord Blandford's Act at all. He took an earlier clause, the 14th, which said that whenever certain offices of the church should be performed in the church of a new parish or district, and the fees should belong to the incumbent, then it was to be a separate and distinct parish far ecclesinstical purposes, such as was contemplated in the 15th section of Sir Robert Peel's Act. Dr. Lushington said, "The refers us to Sir Robert Peel's Act, so let us see whether church rates could be levied under that Statute." Then he fastened upon the term "ecclesiastical purposes" in the 15th section of Sir Robert Peel's Act. That, in his opinion, must mean all ecclesiastical purposes; and he held that church rates were ecclesiastical purposes. In this way, construing Sir Robert Peel's Act, and not the 15th section of Lord Blandford's Act, 1518 Dr. Lushington arrived at the conclusion that church rates were not to be levied in new parish for the purposes of the old parish. He believed it was proposed to appeal from this judgment to the Privy Council, and it was therefore impossible yet to assume that this was actually the law. At the same time it must be obvious to every one that there were elements for further consideration arising out of the 15th section of Lord Blandford's Act, which were not exhausted by Dr. Lushington's decision in that case. He would now explain the course which had been taken in the preparation of the present Bill, under these circumstances. If they consolidated the provisions of Lord Blandford's Act at all, it was impossible to leave out the 15th section, which was the very keystone of the arch; and what was done, therefore, was simply to take the language of that section and reproduce it, church rates not being mentioned, leaving it to have in the new Act just the operation which it would have in the old Act. Nothing was done to authorize the levy of church rates under it, if they could not have been levied in like circumstances under the old Act. Whatever that operation of Lord Blandford's Act was, it was, at present, the law of the land and to alter it, so as to declare that church rates should not be levied for the purposes of these new parishes (if they might be so levied under the existing law), would have been a plain and direct departure from the engagement given by the Government, that they would not attempt, by the present measure, to alter the law of church rates. If a majority of this or of the other House of Parliament thought the law on this subject ought to be as it was, it could hardly be expected that they would recognize the obligation, sought by some to be cast upon them, to alter that law, merely because its effect might have been misapprehended by this or that individual, either when Lord Blandford's Act was passing through the House of Commons, or at any other time. Those who thought that the law ought to be altered, had the right and the power to bring that question to a direct issue, by moving for leave to introduce a Bill for that purpose; but he did not think they could justly call upon the Government to take that responsibility upon themselves, much less to stake the success of a measure like the present upon any such proposal. At the same time, the Government were most desirous of doing all that they properly could to remove any 1519 reasonable ground of exception, if such could be shown to exist, to the language or the possible effect of any part of the present Bill. It had occurred to him that the objection with regard to the disputed clause, which had been adopted out of Lord Blandford's Act, might be met by omitting the whole of those clauses which related to the Peel and Blandford parishes, leaving Sir Robert Peel's and Lord Blandford's Acts unrepealed; and that he should have been perfectly prepared to do, if, all things considered, it had appeared the more advisable course to proceed with the Bill during the present Session. But there seemed to be good reasons for withdrawing the Bill just now. On the one hand the Government had been informed that nothing would be satisfactory to certain gentlemen except a substantive alteration in the law, which; of course would be inconsistent with the engagements which had been given when the subject was undertaken. He was also bound to say the moment a cry was raised, on one side, it seemed as if the defence of the Bill, on the other side, might, perhaps, be rested by some on grounds equally remote from that impartiality on the matter in dispute, which the Government desired to preserve; and that any such modification of it, as he had just indicated, would be unacceptable to a powerful class of its supporters. But there was also another subject which had exposed the Bill to objections, sometimes urged in strong terms, from a very different class of opponents, and upon which some explanation was due. The Government had been accused of new legislation, not only on the question of church rates, but also in the very opposite direction, on the question of pew rents. Some zealous churchmen had been as severe on the Bill for that reason as gentlemen who held an opposite opinion had been on account of church rates. He wished to state simply that every one of the Acts under which new parishes were created authorized, without a single exception, the levying of pew rents in the churches of those parishes. The Government, therefore, only took up the system which was found to prevail under the sanction of every former Act. The proportion varied, but the principle existed. His own personal sympathies were with those who did not like pew rents, but were in favour of free churches. But there might often be more harm done by standing up for an abstract principle to an impracticable extent than by adopting the course which, 1520 under the circumstances, was practically the best. Finding, therefore, the principle of pew rents pervading the whole of these Acts, it appeared necessary to adhere to it, but yet it was desirable, while consolidating the Acts, not to extend the principle. And in conformity with that object a clause was introduced into the Bill, by which it was provided, that in no church should the number of free seats be diminished by the operation of the Bill. The Select Committee had thought fit with regard to the Blandford churches to alter-the minimum fixed by the Act from half to one-third. He was not present when that alteration was made; it was unnecessary to say how he should have voted if be had been, but he felt bound to introduce the Bill as it came from the Committee in that respect. It was, however, the greatest mistake possible to suppose that the Bill was intended to legislate in favour of the principle of pew rents, or to give that principle a more extended application, any more than that it was intended to legislate in favour of church rates, or to give them a more extended application. The Bill was honestly intended for the purpose of doing some practical good without meddling with controverted matters. He was sorry, that, for the present, the attempt had failed. It was not a Bill of a pretentious or ambitious character; but he was quite sure that the House would give him credit for having attempted to promote a useful object in all good faith, and having no idea in view except to do that which under the circumstances appeared most just and reasonable. He begged to move that the order be discharged.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the said Order be discharged."— (Mr. Attorney General.)
§ SIR CHARLES DOUGLAS
said, that the principle which those who agreed with him contended for had been admitted by the hon. and learned Gentleman, that, during the last thirty years, no Bill had been carried through the House which did not proceed on the assumption that church rates were not to be interfered with. He wished to call attention to what passed in the year 1828, when an attempt was made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the day to pass a Bill which was not allowed to be read a second time, although he stated that it would not interfere with the question of church rates.
§ MR. HUNT
said, he had listened with great admiration to the able and luminous 1521 speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman, but had heard with great regret the announcement that the Bill was to be withdrawn. He had been a Member of the Select Committee which had discussed the Bill, and he felt in listening to the explanations of the Attorney General that a more powerful speech in favour of a second reading he had not often heard, and he learned with sorrow that the unanswerable arguments in favour of the Bill were to be followed by its withdrawal. The Select Committee who sat upon that question was composed of Gentlemen whose opinions ought to command respect: the Committee gave a most attentive consideration to the subject, and most of them were most anxious to carry out the arrangement that the question of church rates was not to altered by this Consolidation Bill. Having been himself always a warm supporter of church rates in that House, he had strictly adhered to the engagement. But what was the course taken by one hon. Member, who was against the maintenance of church rates? Having found that the law of church rates with regard to the new parishes, as laid down by Dr. Lushington, was different from what he supposed, he thought that he had got an opportunity for altering the law, and he proposed to make it, by means of the Consolidation Bill, that which he thought it was. But, to the honour of the other Members of the Committee who were opposed to church rates, they took a contrary view, and they proceeded in the consideration of the Bill in strict accordance with the engagements which had been entered into. The Bill came down from the Committee at top late a period to be proceeded with, but his hon. and learned Friend had introduced the present measure very nearly in the shape in which it left the Committee, and at a period of the Session favourable to its discussion. With regard to the course that had been taken to-night, he deeply compassionated him on the pressure that had been put upon him. If he had been left to his own will he would have carried the measure and earned the gratitude of all Churchmen for having effected that which had been a much desired object for many years past. The condition and entanglement of the law had been a matter of disgrace to the Legislature for many years, and if his hon. and learned Friend had been able to use his great powers and influential position in removing that stigma, and had made the 1522 law clear and intelligible, he would have earned the gratitude of all Churchman in this country, and it would have conferred additional honour upon him. He regretted that his hon. and learned Friend had taken service with Ministers whose political exigencies were such as obliged them to violate their own convictions and bow to the unreasoning clamour of a small section of their supporters. There was not a single reason for the withdrawal of the Bill, but it had been done simply to obviate the disaffection and estrangement of a small section. What was the single point upon which some of the anti-Church party dissented from that Bill? The decision in the case of "Gough v. Jones" decided that new parishes under Lord Blandford's Act were not liable to pay church rates to the mother church, and the Committee before whom the Bill was seat well considered it, and, finding they had no power to alter the law, they took it as it had been laid down by Dr. Lushington, and made no change in it; but the hon. Member for Wycombe (Mr. M. T. Smith), and those who supported him, took another view of the matter, but that was no reason for withdrawing the Bill. It was a Consolidation Bill, and ought to have been proceeded with; and if the hon. Member for Wycombe, and those who took a similar view of it, thought it a convenient opportunity for taking the sense of the House upon their view of it, they ought to have given notice of an Amendment in Committee on this Bill, and then the question would have been decided. The Government had taken a weak and unworthy course in the matter, and they had no right to withdraw the Bill from the consideration of the House simply from fear of a division in their own party. Having sat on the Committee last year for many weeks, and having bestowed his best attention on the subject, he confessed that he felt great regret at the result of the Bill.
§ MR. HENRY SEYMOUR
said, he two years ago moved the introduction of a Bill for the consolidation of the ecclesiastical law, and in which he was supported by many influential Members of the Government, but from some cause or other he was defeated, and he was unable to carry the whole of the measure. The present law was in a most confused and contradictory state, and its imperfect condition had been alluded to by some of the ablest Judges of the land. Dr. Lushington and 1523 Dr. Jelf had tried their hands at it, and the late Sir James Graham pronounced his opinion that its consolidation was impossible, but nevertheless attempts had been made to do so, and he had been informed it was referred to Dr. Stephens. He believed it had been accomplished in an able manner by Dr. Stephens, and any amendments which he had proposed were printed in italics, that the House and the Government might be able to judge of their value. But the learned Attorney General's Bill was a totally different measure, and the mistake the hon. and learned Gentleman had committed was in his attempt not to consolidate, but to amend the law, and make it an entirely new measure, and that, he believed, was the cause of its failure. He believed it was possible to carry a consolidated Bill. Directly the Bill was laid upon the table of the House, he maintained that it was an Amendment Bill establishing an entirely new code. He did not regard the failure of the present measure as any proof of the correctness of the remark of Sir James Graham, because he maintained that a Consolidation Act had not been attempted by his hon. and learned Friend. When the intricate measure, with its hundred clauses, was referred to the Committee, the Gentlemen on the Committee were engaged for four months in performing the duties which should have been undertaken by a draftsman in the solitude of his chamber. His hon. and learned Friend had said that the Bill introduced no changes in the existing law with regard to church rates. Without desiring to impugn the motives of his hon. and learned Friend, or to attribute to him the intention of surreptitiously introducing church rates where they had not hitherto been levied, the measure had no doubt given rise to disagreeable rumours as to the insertion of two or three words in the Bill which it was said would have the effect of introducing church rates into 500 or 600 parishes, at some future date where their existence had hitherto been Unknown. He could not understand how the hon. Member for Northamptonshire (Mr. Hunt) could maintain that the Bill was a consolidative measure when he and every member of the Committee -were aware of the numerous amendments and new clauses which had been introduced into it. In that Bill words were inserted which would introduce church rates into many parishes in which otherwise they would not have been known for 1524 thirty years to come. Under Sir Robert Peel's Act, and under the Marquess of Blandford's Act, church rates were not introduced, and, therefore, no opposition had been offered to those measures. But would the Conservative party — the successors of these who passed those measures upon that understanding—would they now, because of an accidental interpretation of particular words in a sense that was not intended by the framers of those measures, refuse to listen to a fair appeal of those who objected lo the interpretation? The Bill had failed from the manner in which it had been brought in, and he regretted its failure, because he admired the great abilities of the Attorney General; but he should like to know what was to be the future mode of dealing with the subject. He hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman would, instead of attempting an Amendment Bill, introduce next Session a Consolidation Bill, and if he did so there would be little doubt of his being able to carry it.
§ LORD JOHN MANNERS
said, he could not agree with the last speaker in the conclusions he had drawn from Sir Robert Peel's and the Marquess of Blandford's Acts, that hem. Members on that side of the House should agree with the hon. Member for Wycombe that church rates should never be levied in the parishes thus created. Sir Robert Peel, as was well known, was a cautious man, and he did not say anything about church rates, because his measure contained no direct allusion to them; but it was not fair to argue from that silence twenty years afterwards that church rates never were to be raised in these parishes With respect to the Marquess of Blandford's Act, the hon. and learned Attorney General had put the matter in the clearest light. It was upon a discussion upon the second clause that Lord Blandford spoke, and afterwards the Bill was altered. The measure must be judged by its words, and not by a conversation upon a particular clause. Taking the Act as they found it, and wishing to consolidate it with other Church Building Acts, it would be absurd to suppose that having successfully maintained the existence of church rates; Members on the Opposition side would agree to insert words in a Consolidation Bill, to prevent for all time the rating of church rates in the new and largely increasing parishes. The history which the hon. Gentleman had given of this Bill showed that if this Bill had 1525 been carried out merely as a measure of consolidation the present difficulty would not have arisen. The Attorney General told them that instructions were given to prepare a Consolidation Bill, and Dr. Stephens did prepare such a Bill, but political reasons prevented him from accepting the measure. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL: That is not so.] The hon. and learned Gentleman had, in order to avoid controversy, left out certain section from the Bill, but he not gained his object. The hon. Gentleman behind him were not conciliated by those sections being put in the schedules. Now the Committee were unanimous in recommending that, with a view to consolidation, the sections should be inserted in the body of the Bill. Again, the hon. and learned Attorney General thought it unwise to accede to the recommendations of the Committee. The sections were not introduced into the body of the Bill in order to conciliate hon. Members who sat on the benches behind the hon. and learned Gentleman. Those Gentlemen were not conciliated. The moral he should draw from those failures was, that it was an impossibility to conciliate political dissentients in any matter connected with the church. The hon. and learned Gentleman was prepared to make further sacrifices, and to strike out all reference to Sir Robert Peel's and Lord Blandford's Acts. That would no have been consolidation. It would have been a poor and miserable attempt at consolidation. If the hon. and learned Gentleman were really anxious to perform the great work of consolidation he must proceed on a clearer basis, and defy the efforts of the Liberation Society. He admitted that the hon. and learned Gentleman was not to blame in this matter. He had acted, no doubt, in the purest and highest spirit, but he had been overruled by higher powers, and had had to sacrifice his churchmanship to his connection with those who sat behind him. The hon. and learned Gentleman had certainly had to encounter very great difficulties; and as to the legal difficulties of the question there were added difficulties of a political and semi-religious nature, it could not be denied that great praise was due to him for the efforts he had made to surmount them. While regretting that the efforts had failed, he did not believe that the labours of Dr. Stephens and his coadjutors would be thrown away; but, on the contrary, he thought that it would be reserved for happier times and a more united Government 1526 to carry out the great work of consolidating the laws relating to church building.
§ MR. F. S. POWELL
said, he agreed with all that had been said in praise of the hon. and learned Attorney General for the attention he had given to the subject. There was another Gentleman on the opposite bench to whom a tribute of praise was also due, he meant the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies. He was quite satisfied that they would not have arrived at the conclusion which they had reached but for his efforts. It had been stated that the effect of the present Bill would be to authorize the levying of pew rents in parish churches; but there was nothing in the Bill to authorize that, though it was true such a provision might apply to certain new churches. The hon. and learned Attorney General had fallen into an error. The-draft of the Bill, as originally drawn, enacted that one-fifth part of the pews in every church referred to should be free; but the Committee decided that one-third should be free, and therefore the hon. and learned Gentleman could hardly claim for having desired that one-half should be free, when in his own Bill one-fifth was inserted. The practice was to have one-third of the seats free. In the case of those new churches the law only required the consent of the Bishop, but the present Bill required that there should be the consents of the incumbent and the patron also, unless it could be shown that pew rents were absolutely necessary. In the Committee it was also proposed that pews should be let for only one year, and the great evil had arisen in consequence of letting for longer periods. There was another provision that appeared to be an act of injustice on the part of the Committee; it was enacted that during the lifetime of any incumbent, and contrary to his wish, a certain sum of money derived from pew rents should be taken away in the event of the augmentation of his income. He must say that he felt great regret that the Bill had been withdrawn, for he believed that in the hands of the Attorney General it might have been made a useful measure by getting rid of doubts and embarrassments which new existed. He, however, felt little encouragement from what had passed; and he believed that a purely Consolidation Bill could not pass, and if it did, it would only have the effect of bringing to light a number of ambiguities and obscurities in the law.
MR. REMINGT0N MILLS
said, that having been taunted with forcing on the Committee the consideration of the question of church rates, he wished to state that last year, on the second reading of the Bill, he objected to it on the same grounds as he did now. The Secretary of State then said that no doubt it was understood that church rates should not be leviable for the support of those district churches, that the question was one for the Select Committee, and that no instruction would be necessary. Therefore, he was fully justified by what fell from the right hon. Baronet in bringing the subject before the Committee. He altogether disclaimed having imputed to the hon. and learned Attorney General any motives except the most honourable. He believed that the hon. and learned Gentleman never at tempted anything which he did not think right, and that his course was guided by the principles of justice; but from first to last, since the money from the Million Act was expended, it was understood that churches built by subscription were not to be supported by church rates. Nevertheless, he maintained that the present Bill gave the power of levying church rates in district parishes. It ought to be considered that by re-enacting a clause they gave it additional force. He stood alone in the Committee, and he had endeavoured to maintain his principles honestly, which he would always continue to do.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Order for Second Reading discharged.
§ Bill withdrawn.