HC Deb 30 June 1828 vol 19 cc1556-63
The Chancellor of the Exchequer

, in moving the second reading of this bill, thought, after the objections which had been made to it, it would be better, at that late period of the Session, to postpone it. He was, however, anxious to go into a committee, to explain the nature and objects of its clauses.

Mr. Leycester

hoped the right hon. gentleman would give up the bill. It was highly objectionable. Amongst other things, it gave the churchwardens a right to tax the parishioners; which in itself was a flagrant violation of private property. All acts of this kind only proved how nugatory was the attempt to thrust religion down people's throats. To all such attempts he would answer, "Quodcunque mihi sic ostendis, incredulus odi." This interference of the church, so selfishly and so constantly, was both disgusting and intolerable.

Mr. J. Wood

opposed the second reading, and called on all who wished to support the respectability of the established church, to rescue it from the odium which its enemies were so eager to heap upon it.

Mr. Alderman Wood

wished the right hon. gentleman would decline the assistance of interested advisers. In many parishes one of the churchwardens was appointed by the rector, who was directly interested, and the other by the parishioners. There was no appeal from their decision. The state of things, in this respect, was deplorable in many parishes. He himself had sat for days, hearing the cases of more than two hundred people in one parish, who were told by the churchwardens, on being summoned for poor and church-rates, "The church-rates you must pay, at all events, whatever becomes of the poor-rates." He should oppose the bill in every stage.

Sir C. Cole

was favourable to the clause which prohibited burials in churches.

Mr. Alderman Waithman

hoped the right hon. gentleman would consent to withdraw a measure so objectionable in its principle.

Mr. Warburton

concurred in the same hope.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the bill instead of conferring new powers, went merely to give effect to those already recognized by parliament. It rather went to relieve the parishioners from unequal taxation, than to impose it upon them.

Mr. R. Gordon

condemned the clause, which went to enable churchwardens to levy monies for ecclesiastical purposes.

Dr. Phillimore

objected to the introduction of such a bill at so late a period of the session.

Dr. Lushington

, although he did not approve of the whole of the measure, should vote for going into the committee. He was convinced that were his hon. friends to inform themselves respecting the operation of the existing law, and contrast it with the provisions of the proposed bill, little opposition would be offered to the measure. With respect to patronage, he hoped he should never see the right of appointment placed in the hands of a body of parishioners, which would reduce a clergymen to the necessity of undertaking a very degrading species of canvass.

Mr. Hume

thought it a bad symptom, when clauses so open to abuse could be considered an amelioration. He regretted that the learned doctor had expressed himself unfavourable to the election of clergymen by their parishioners; but his chief objection to the bill was, that it alluded to so many acts of parliament instead of consolidating those acts, and thus complicated instead of simplifying the state of the law. He thought it would be better to postpone the bill, than pass it in so crude a state.

Mr. Sugden

supported the bill. He did not entirely approve of the clause which limited the recovery of compensation for private rights to five years. Ho agreed in the principle, that no time should run against the church; because it was not a privilege to the church but to the public. He thought, that the moment a church or chapel was built, it should be good for ever against all the world. But still he thought a provision should be made against taking any man's land improperly. He would not have a church or chapel, built for the benefit of the community and at their expense, seized and taken into the possession of the person to whom the land might belong; but he should be compensated for the value of the site. He entirely disagreed from the hon. gentleman as to the propriety of electing the ministers of parishes by the people. There was not a single instance in which the right had been exercised, in which it had not been attended by disgraceful and disgusting circumstances.

Sir F. Burdett

said, that the bill was brought in so imperfectly, that no two persons could agree upon any part of it. The learned gentleman who spoke last had given a very good reason why the bill should be postponed; for if there ought to be a clause to indemnify the owners of disputed land, they surely ought to give time for such an alteration. But his learned friend who had spoken before was quite enamoured with the bill. Still, however, he thought, with all due respect for his opinion, that at that late period of the session the measure should be permitted to drop for the present. The strongest objection to the bill was, that it did not consolidate the various laws which now existed on the subject: time should be given for that purpose, and the occasion was not so pressing as to call upon them to pass the bill "with all its imperfections on its head." With respect to the choice of clergymen by their congregations, he should only say, that the few things of that kind in his own gift he had always disposed of upon that principle, and he had always found it productive of the greatest harmony. There was certainly no objection to it upon principle, for it had been the original practice, and, as far as he could judge, that practice was likely to be attended with the best effects.

The question for the second reading being put, Mr. Hume moved, as an amendment, that the bill should be read a second time that day three months. The House divided: For the Amendment 28; Against it 66; Majority 38. Another division took place, on a new amendment, that the bill should be referred to a committee above stairs. The numbers were: For the Amendment 33; Against it 69. Another amendment, was "That the bill be committed on that day three months."

Lord W. Powlett

said, that to the principle of this bill he was entirely favourable; but as the right hon. gentleman would not yield to the wish of the House, and as it would be impossible to pass the bill in the present session, he should feel it his painful duty to vote for the postponement.

Mr. John Wood

said, that a few nights ago, he had heard the member for Wareham (Mr. Calcraft), whom he now heard crying "question!" boast, that, sit on which side of the House he might, he would still support the principles he had always advocated; yet now the right hon. gentleman was the first to cry "question !" when the rights of the people were at stake. If this was an omen of the change of principles that resulted from his change of seat, he wished the right hon. gentleman joy of it. He had risen to show, that the but was not only objectionable in principle, but amounted to a breach of faith. When a million of money was granted for the building new churches, it was stated that no additional expense should fall upon the parishes; but now after that million and an additional half million had been granted, this scandalous breach of faith was about to be committed. We had already a Church Establishment more overgrown than that of any other country in the world. This bill went to increase its patronage, to a monstrous and indefinite degree; and yet we were told, that if we allowed it to go quietly into the committee, we might there see it in a corrected state. He entreated the right hon. gentleman to postpone the further consideration of this measure till next session.

Sir J. Brydges

hoped that the right hon. gentleman would not postpone the consideration of this measure. Gentlemen had that evening evinced a disposition to pull down the Church Establishment of the country [loud cries of "hear"].

Mr. Spring Rice

protested against the speech of the hon. baronet. What right had the hon. baronet to attribute motives to gentlemen, which they were as incapable of feeling as the hon. baronet was of sympathizing with the motives which really actuated them? They disclaimed any wish to pull down the church property; on the contrary, they were the real friends of the church, and the best guardians of its property, who opposed measures which were calculated to produce discontent and irritation between the church and those who belonged to its communion. All that was asked for, was time to submit this bill to the examination of a committee above stairs.

Mr. O. Cave

said, he was sure the chancellor of the Exchequer, if he knew the strong feeling of hostility to this measure which pervaded the country, would not attempt to pass it this session.

Sir R. Wilson

said, he had read the bill, and found it to be much worse than he had anticipated. He wished the right hon. gentleman would consent, in the first place, to modify it in the committee, and, in the next, to let the country have full time to consider its details.

Sir James Graham

objected to the bill entirely. In zeal towards the church, and in a determination to uphold it in all its just rights, he would not yield to any one; and it was with that feeling that he could not uphold any measure that the unwise friends of that church might bring forward, to enable it to grasp more power and greater revenues than it already enjoyed. Such appeared to him to be the character of the present measure, and on those grounds he should oppose it. The hon. member for Preston had appealed to the right hon. gentleman opposite (Mr. Calcraft) in an angry tone; but he had so long entertained a friendship for that right hon. gentleman, that he was willing to give him credit for every pledge that he had entered into (notwithstanding his change of place in that House), till he saw that they were falsified; and it was on that ground that he should call on the right hon. gentleman to use his influence with the chancellor of the Exchequer to induce him to accede to the wish that had been expressed.

Mr. Calcraft

said, he felt much gratified at what had fallen from the hon. baronet with so much courtesy and kind feeling. His hon. friend had hoped that he would intreat the chancellor of the Exchequer, not only to delay, but to abandon the present measure: but he was sure that many hon. friends of his, would recollect, that he had been friendly to the original measure of building additional churches. It would therefore be seen, that he could not, consistently ask the chancellor of the Exchequer to arrest the progress of a measure, the effects of which would be to amend and improve a proposition to which he had given his support. All the objections now urged against this bill would be properly urged in the committee, because they only affected its clauses, and did not touch its principle; and it was to the committee that he would urge his right hon. friend to proceed with all the speed allowed by the forms of the House.

Mr. George Lamb

wished to know what urgent necessity there was to press the bill through the House during the present session. The former grants had not been expended; the commissioners had yet 500,000l. in hand; and surely it was little to ask the right hon. gentleman to wait till the next session. Then, if the hill had that beneficial character which the right hon. gentleman attributed to it, he might bring it in with the joint support of the country and of the House. He believed that, if the right hon. gentleman persisted in attempting to force this bill through the House, he would not succeed in his attempt; but if he did succeed he would lose his popularity.

Mr. Alderman Waithman

said, the chancellor of the Exchequer might assure himself that if this measure were persisted in, the question would not be decided at an early hour, either on that evening or on any other. The right hon. gentleman would surround himself with difficulties from which he could not extricate himself. Why should the bill be pressed through parliament at that late period of the session? Let time be afforded to the House and the country to become acquainted with its principle and details.

The House divided: For the Amendment 38; Against it 82; Majority 44.

Mr. Hume

said, he would move, that this debate should be adjourned until tomorrow, that he might have an opportunity of moving, that the 500,000l. which had been voted for the repairing and building of churches, and which had not as yet been expended, should be returned to the Exchequer.

Sir W. W. Wynn

said, he thought it was extremely hard that a bill of this importance should be introduced at that late period of the session. He would oppose it now; but he would not thereby pledge himself to oppose it in a future session.

Lord Sandon

said, his impression had been in favour of the bill, but that impression had been much weakened, after the arguments he had heard. Under all the circumstances, he was of opinion that they should not now proceed further with the bill, than the reading of it a second time, and committing it pro forma.

Mr. Monck

said, he entertained the strongest objections, not only to the principle but to the details of this measure. The church should not be maintained by the imposition of new taxes. It should derive its support from the voluntary contributions of the opulent, and not from a compulsory assessment levied upon the poor, and in most instances upon the great body of the Dissenters. The grand fault of the church was, that it relied too little upon the people for support, and too much on parliament and the State. The whole argument in favour of this measure proceeded upon the fallacy—that the true way to support the church, and to augment its revenues, consisted in imposing new taxes on the people. They were the real enemies of the church who would place it before the country in the odious light of a tax-gatherer.

Dr. Phillimore

expressed his approbation of the principle of the bill; at the same time it required deep consideration, and that a consolidation of the ecclesiastical acts on the subject should be effected.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said the bill had been characterized as imposing a tax; but the fact was, that it imposed no additional burthen. With respect to the clause authorizing money to be raised for ecclesiastical purposes, he denied that it gave more power than was previously in existence. He could not see why the bill should not be allowed to go into a committee, where he would have an opportunity of satisfying gentlemen as to its precise nature and objects.

Sir F. Burdett

said, there was not a. clause in the bill, except that which related to interment within a certain distance of the church, which he did not object to. With that exception he defied any gentleman to come at the true and accurate meaning of any one clause. Now, in his opinion, a bill in such an imperfect state, was not fit to go to a committee. The only mode of dealing with it would be to refer it to a committee up stairs, and he hoped the right hon. gentleman would consent to adopt this course. The propriety of delay was shown by what had occurred since the House had been debating the measure. During the discussion a petition had arrived from Manchester against the bill, drawn up as if the petitioners had foreseen the reproaches that would be urged against those who opposed the bill. The petitioners objected to the bill on account of its tending to increase the church rates; which was not only unjust towards the rate-payers, but tended to diminish in the public mind the respect due to the church. This was a providential vindication of those who opposed the bill against those who said they wished to injure the church. He was as staunch a friend to the church as any man, in justice and reason; but he understood by the word "Church," not the stones, or the building, or the priest, but the congregation. He hoped the contest between them would end here, and that the next time the measure was brought before them, the right hon. gentleman would be prepared, having consulted with the Secretary of State for the Home Department, to say that the bill should not be proceeded with at that late period of the session.

The House then divided: For Adjourning the Debate 42; Against it 73; Majority 31. Mr. Alderman Wood next moved, "That the House do now adjourn." Upon which the House, after a short conversation, divided: Ayes 41; Noes 64; Majority 23. The main question, that the House should go into the Committee on Thursday, was then agreed to.