§ Mr. Divett
, in bringing forward the Motion of which he had given notice at the close of the last Session of Parliament, and which he had felt it his duty to renew this Session, relative to the payment of Church-rates, felt that, as an inexperienced Member, he must claim the indulgence of the House; and he was sure that that indulgence would be afforded to him, as it was to all those who seldom trespassed at any length. When he first directed his attention to the compulsory payment of Church-rates, he had strong feelings on the subject of their impolicy; and in the course of the last few months those feelings had been increased ten-fold, by what he had seen passing in every part of the country. He was quite aware that it might be said, that he was hardly justified in bringing this matter forward after the notice which had been given by the noble Lord, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He could assure the noble Lord most sincerely, that he was actuated by no want of courtesy towards the Government, of which the noble Lord was a member. With the friendly disposition he entertained towards that Government, he could not show any feeling of distrust; but circumstances had lately arisen which made him anxious to procure that relief, which he considered the grievances of the Dissenters essentially demanded. It was time, that the opinion of this House should be so decidedly expressed upon the subject, as to enable it to bring it to a satisfactory and final conclusion. He might here state, that the subject which he was going to bring under the consideration of the House, was exclusively that of Church-rates; but it was connected with many other of the grievances under which the Dis- 382 senters laboured; and was mixed up with the question of Church Reform. To remedy one of those grievances a Bill had been brought in by his noble friend, the Paymaster of the Forces; but he did not know, that there was a determination on the part of the Government to carry that measure to a conclusion. Another reason why he brought the matter forward was, that the noble Lord at the head of his Majesty's Government was reported to have said, in another place, that he would resist the abolition of compulsory payment of Church-rates as strenuously as he would resist the separation of Church and State. No man was more anxious than he was to preserve the union between Church and State; and he deeply regretted, that the noble Lord had made this declaration, because it was one very likely to forward the object which the noble Lord deprecated. He regretted, that this subject had not fallen into more able hands,—the hands of those who, with experience of the forms of the House, would be fully able to do it the justice it deserved. He wished that it had fallen into the hands of the noble Lord, the Paymaster of the Forces, for that noble Lord, in bringing forward a Motion of this sort, would be only following up those principles which he had advocated in the early part of his political career, when he had shown himself a zealous and eloquent promoter of the principles of religious liberty. If he regretted to see that noble Lord amongst the members of his Majesty's Government, it was because he was thereby prevented from following up those principles which, in the early part of his life, he had so strenuously advocated. Every hon. Member must be aware that, in the course of the last few months, there bad been an increasing disposition on the part of the people to avoid the payment of Church-rates,—a feeling which had been growing up for many years. It had arisen in consequence of the increase of the impost, but still more in consequence of the continual and great increase of Dissenters. To what cause it was to be attributed, he would not stop to inquire, though it was, no doubt, greatly owing to the measures which took place as far back as 1819. In that year, an Act passed granting 1,000,000l. for the building of churches and chapels. That million coming from the general revenue of the country, was paid equally by Dissenters and Church- 383 men. But, besides this, in many districts, there was a great increase of parochial taxes to keep up the churches. He need hardly say, that was strong ground for complaint on the part of the Dissenters. Perhaps it was right that he should state to the House the amount of the Church-rates. In the return of the local taxation of the country, for the year ending the 27th of March, 1827, the Church-rates were stated to amount to 564,000l. This, he could prove, was the sum which had been levied; and the House would perceive that it formed a very important item in the whole amount of the local taxation of the country. There was another return on the Table of the House, stating the amount of Highway-rates and Church-rates, for the year ending March, 1827. The total expenditure for local taxation was 9,489,687l. The next return was of a more recent date, and went more into detail. It appeared from that return, which related to the years 1830–1831, that the total sum expended fur purposes connected with the Church in that year, amounted, in round numbers, to 645,000l. Of this amount a considerable portion arose from estates, pew-rents, and fees; but no less a sum than 554,000l. was raised by that description of taxation to which he was about to call the attention of the House. The account of the expenditure of this money did not go into as much detail as he could wish; but it appeared, that the cost of the repairs of churches was 248,000l.; organs and bells, 41,000; books and wine, 46,000l.; salaries of clerks and sextons, 126,000l.; and for sundry other purposes, 184,000l. Now, this appeared to him to be a seriously extravagant amount of taxation. Part of these expenses could not now be enforced by law; but a portion of them remained in full force; and the whole were not only disgusting to the feelings of the Dissenters, but extremely prejudicial to the best interests of the Church itself. He might be asked, with great propriety, how he proposed to remedy the existing evils? His own opinion was, that no man could be justly charged for the support of a religion to which he dissented; and, therefore, the principle upon which money should be raised for the necessary expenses of the Church was exclusively that of voluntary contribution. But it would be said, that it was impossible to maintain the Church by such means. To 384 disprove that assumption, he would refer to the case of the Dissenters, who had 8,000 places of worship; and for their maintenance they did not raise in any year less than a million. Surely, if the Dissenters could effect this, the members of the Church of England might be called upon to do something also for the support of their religion. The Dissenters not only contributed the sum which he had mentioned for the support of their places of worship, but their subscriptions, for missionary and other purposes connected with religious and moral improvement, exceeded those of the Established Church. Another unobjectionable mode by which the necessary funds might be raised, was by pew-rents. In a vast number of churches in the metropolis large sums were raised in that way. In parishes where the congregation was small, this plan could be very easily adopted. He was aware that the farmers of England were at this moment labouring under considerable distress; but he was sure, that those persons very much under-estimated their sense of religion who doubted that they would liberally come forward, if these compulsory payments were done away with, to maintain the places of worship established by their ancestors. He knew that this question was attended with many difficulties; but, in dealing with it, he thought it absolutely necessary to separate the question of Church-rates from that of tithes. He was aware, that some persons conceived that to attack the principle of Church-rates was to attack also the principle of tithes; but that such a construction could justly be put upon the proposition which he brought forward, he must beg leave to deny; and, if it could, he must assert, that he would not be instrumental in promoting a measure of that nature. He was anxious to do away with the compulsory payment of Church-rates; but he was equally anxious to preserve the property now held by the Church, and to make it available for the promotion of sound religion. Another source, besides the voluntary means he had alluded to, from which he would propose to raise the necessary funds, was the cathedral lands. There was a very great jealousy in the public mind touching any incomes connected with the Church. He did not attack the Church; but he said he thought it important that many of the foundations destined for its support should be rendered more effectually available for that pur- 385 pose. The sums stated as belonging to these foundations were about 300,000l. per annum. They were devoted ostensibly to the purpose of keeping up the celebration of Divine Service in collegiate churches. He could mention an instance of one collegiate church, with which he was well acquainted, namely, that of Exeter, where, he was informed, the annual income was nominally 12,000l.: but a friend of his, who knew the value of the property, assured him that, if it were let at rack-rents, it would produce 70,000l. a-year, instead of 12,000l. An Act of Parliament had been lately passed to enable a lessee under the Bishop of Bath and Wells to purchase the property in fee-simple. Large sums of money might he raised in this way. He now came to a very important post of his argument. In looking at certain accounts, he was astonished to observe the progress which dissent had made of late years. In many towns, the Dissenters outnumbered the members of the Church of England. In the principality of Wales, there were more dissenting places of worship built than there were churches belonging to the Establishment. From a return which he held in his hand, it appeared that, within the six months which ended the last year, the Dissenters of that part of the empire raised a sum of 17,000l. towards clearing off the debts which they had contracted, and that, within the next six months, it was expected a sum would be raised equal to the discharge of the whole demand. He had likewise a return, showing the state of two parishes in Monmouthshire, having a population of about 16,000, in which parishes, within a few years, twenty-three places of dissenting worship had sprung up. In the war 1765 there were but two such places of worship in those parishes. In 1806, there was one more. From 1821 to 1828, there were seven built. In 1829, three were erected, and one more in 1830. He wished to call the attention of the House to the oppressive character of the Church-rates, as they affected Dissenters, and to impress upon the minds of members of the Church of England, that, by showing a conciliatory spirit to their dissenting fellow-subjects, they would best promote the interests of that Church to which they were attached, and contribute to its stability hereafter. In almost all parishes, particularly in large towns, there was at present a bitter feeling of hostility 386 entertained by the Dissenters towards the Church of England. He believed it was yet possible to do away with the acrimony which existed. He would entreat the House to direct its constant attention to this subject, and to take warning from what had occurred in former times. There had never been a time when the Church was apparently stronger in the support of a great portion of the people of England than at present; but there had never been a time when there were greater apprehensions that inroads might be made upon it. It took a long time to bring the principles of civil and religious liberty to maturity. From the time when the civil and religious liberties of this country were established, nearly two centuries elapsed before they were placed upon a solid foundation. He had a strong hope that it would not he long before every grievance of which the Dissenters complained would be removed. One grievance of which the Dissenters loudly complained was that respecting admission to the Universities. Within the last few hours, he had received a communication, that, out of 150 resident members of the University of Cambridge, fifty had signed a petition in favour of the claims of the Dissenters. At Oxford, likewise, a great change had taken place in the general feeling. In 1829, a right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel), whom he did not see in his place, yielding to a stern necessity, which was completely beyond his control as a statesman, felt it his duty to make a great sacrifice, and to give up his personal opinion on the subject of the Roman Catholic claims. For that the University rejected him; but now it had elected as its Chancellor—because, he supposed, it could not get any one to represent its feelings better—a noble Duke, who had been at the head of the administration to which the right hon. Baronet then belonged. He had already stated, that he brought this question forward from no feeling of hostility to the Established Church. He was a churchman himself, and, he hoped, a sincere one. He wished to preserve the Church in harmony with every class of the community. He wished for the removal of every grievance under which the Dissenters laboured, in order that such a union should be formed as would best promote the interests of all. There was one subject to which he would allude before he sat down, as he considered it a great obstacle to the reform which he 387 wished to see introduced. He alluded to the indisposition of the Church to give up the fees to which it was by law entitled. He could mention an instance in which these fees were a source of great vexation. In 1827 an Act of Parliament was passed for establishing a general cemetery in London, and a clause was introduced in Act which provided that no individual should be buried there until lees had been paid to the rector of Marylebone. He really thought provisions of that soft were highly inexpedient, and he hoped the House would take the whole question up and legislate upon sound and comprehensive principles. He concluded by moving, "That, in the opinion of this House, it is just and expedient, that effectual measures should be taken for the abolition of compulsory payments of Church-rates in England and Wales."
§ Mr. Hall
seconded the Motion, and observed, that it was founded in equity and justified by experience. The constitution of the Church now occupied so much of the consideration of all men, that it was natural the Dissenters should look to their own interests; and they showed that they were doing so, because they were presenting petitions, praying for the removal of their grievances. He was aware that, in some instances, they prayed for the total separation of the Church from the State; but, from his knowledge of the Dissenters, he was convinced that they were more anxious for the removal of the practical grievances under which they laboured. The first of those grievances was the payment of Church-rates; and he hoped, as the question had now been brought forward, and as there must soon be some positive decision, whether in reference to the Motion of his hon. friend, or with respect to the measure of which the noble Lord opposite had given notice, the House would do the Dissenters that justice to which they were entitled. The progress of dissent was very rapid, and in no part of the country greater than in that with which he was connected. His hon. friend had stated, that in two populous parishes in Monmouthshire there was but one dissenting place of worship, and that between the years 1809 and 1830, there was an increase of not less than twenty-one to the number. He had also an account, stating that, in two other parishes, containing a population of 16,000 souls, there was accommodation at the Dissenters' places 388 of worship, in one parish, for 12,484 persons, and in the other, for 4,725; so that altogether there was accommodation prepared for about 1,200 more than the population. The expense, which amounted to 11,500l., was paid by voluntary contributions amongst the Dissenters. In addition to this, the Dissenters were compelled, as his hon. friend had said, in many instances, to re-build churches, or to build new ones. It was said, that the abolition of Church-rates would be only a stepping-stone towards the separation of Church and State; but from that assertion he differed. The question of Church-rates was totally distinct from that of tithe. Unless something were done in the case of Church-rates, they would be a source of the greatest injury to the Church of England. On the western side of the county of Monmouth no less than three-fifths of the population dissented from the doctrines of the Church of England. A very great sensation had been produced amongst the Dissenters by what was reported to have been said in the other House of Parliament by a noble Earl at the head of the Government, who was represented as having declared, that he was prepared to defend the existence of Church-rates as warmly as the continuance of the connexion between Church and State. He hoped that, whether the noble Lord and the Government were now prepared to assent to this proposition, or to bring forward their own measure—he hoped and trusted the Dissenters would see, that the House had taken up the question, and was willing to go into it with an anxious wish to consider its merits, and to put them upon a fair footing as regarded the exercise of their religion.
§ Lord Althorp
said, that before he replied to any other part of the speeches of the hon. members for Exeter and Monmouth, he must apply himself to that point introduced by the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, at the conclusion of his speech, with respect to what was alleged to have been said by his noble friend (Earl Grey) in his place in the other House of Parliament. It was stated, that his noble friend had declared, that he was prepared to defend the continuance of Church-rates as much as the continuance of the connexion between Church and State. Now he was perfectly satisfied that it was quite impossible his noble friend should have made such a statement. 389 From his knowledge of the opinions of his noble friend, and his knowledge of the opinions of his Majesty's Government generally, he was satisfied it was utterly impossible that his noble friend could have actually made that statement in the other House of Parliament. This was the only contradiction he could possibly give to the statement. Not being present in the House on the occasion in question, he could not speak positively as to the terms used. With regard to the proposition made by the two hon. Members, he need not remind the House as the hon. Gentlemen had reminded it, that he (Lord Althorp) had given notice of a Motion on the subject. He should not, therefore, think it necessary to go into the question of Church-rates on the present occasion, further than to say, that he concurred entirely with the hon. Gentleman in believing that the question of Church-rates rested upon a very different foundation indeed, from that of tithes; but, hoping, as he did, that the measure which he should have the honour to propose would prove satisfactory to the House,—sure as he was, that it ought to give satisfaction,—and believing, that it would, he hoped and trusted that this notice being on the books of a measure to be brought forward by his Majesty's Government, not in the shape of a Resolution, but as an effective practical measure, Gentlemen would see, that it was not desirable at present for the House either to affirm the principle proposed by the hon. Gentleman, or to negative his proposition. It would be his duty, therefore, on the Motion of the hon. Gentleman, to move the previous question. But the hon. Gentleman had entered into some statements of the case of the Dissenters. The hon. Gentleman had alluded to other grievances under which the Dissenters laboured; and, therefore, in the present state of this question, and of the country, it was desirable that he should not be entirely silent upon the different points to which the hon. Gentleman had alluded. The subject which the hon. Gentleman who had last spoken most properly placed first amongst the general grievances under which the Dissenters laboured, was the payment of Church-rates; then came the subject of marriage; and thirdly that of a general registration; and although this matter concerned every class or the community, yet he was ready to admit, that the want of a general regis- 390 tration pressed more heavily upon the Dissenters than upon the members of the Established Church. The fourth point, of which they complained was that which related to their exclusion from the Universities. These were the main points which were urged on behalf of the Dissenters. There was, also, as he was reminded by an hon. friend near him, a complaint with regard to burial in Church-yards without the ceremonies of the Church. He would state frankly his opinion upon the last of these questions first. He need not remind the House, that there was a very strong feeling amongst the people of this country on the subject of the burial of the dead; and, therefore, he certainly thought, if any other remedy for the grievance could be devised which should not interfere with the feelings of the people with respect to the burial of Dissenters in Church-yards, it would be desirable to avoid legislating on the subject. With respect to the establishment of a general register, he had already, on a former occasion, stated, that it was the anxious wish of his Majesty's Government to form such an establishment. His noble friend, the Paymaster of the Forces, had submitted to his Majesty's Government a plan which he thought would be effectual, but upon looking at that plan, and considering the subject in the best way they could, they were of opinion that if they attempted to carry it into effect, with the machinery which at present existed in the different parishes, such a registration would not be satisfactory; and if they attempted to form other machinery for the purpose, the expense would be so great that it would be impossible to propose such a measure to the House. Since then it notice had been given by his hon. and learned friend, the member for Southwark, of a measure on the subject. He knew not what was the principle of that measure. He should be glad if his hon. and learned friend could overcome the difficulties which, with the existing machinery, appeared to him insurmountable. But although he thought with the machinery now existing it would be difficult to establish a complete system of registration, yet he hoped that in another measure, which it would be the duty of his Majesty's Government to propose during the present Session, the machinery which was to be employed might be applied to the purposes of general registration. The great difficulty was in appointing officers 391 for the purpose of registration. That was likely to be attended with an enormous expense; but if the officers appointed for other objects could also be employed for that duty, he hoped the object might be accomplished without any extravagant expense. He could only say, that his Majesty's Ministers, being of opinion that the greatest advantage would arise to the country from a general registration, would apply their most anxious attention to the subject, and he had a full hope that they would be able to effect the object. With respect to marriage, his noble friend had introduced a Bill which he was aware had not given satisfaction to the parties for whose benefit it was intended. He maintained, that this measure could not be arranged in a completely satisfactory manner, without being founded upon a general system of registration. But his Majesty's Government, finding the difficulties they had to encounter in proposing a general system of registration to be so great that they could not overcome them, thought it desirable to propose a measure relating to marriage only. He was aware that objections had been made to the Marriage Bill brought in by his noble friend (Lord John Russell), and if those objections continued on the part of those for whose relief the Bill was intended, it certainly would not be the policy of the Government to persevere in it. The next point to which he had to advert, was that of the admission of Dissenters to the Universities, and upon this subject he had heard that many members of the University of Cambridge were in favour of such a measure. He was happy to say, that he knew the fact to be so, for a petition had been sent up to that House pretty numerously signed, and with some eminent names attached to it, praying that Dissenters might be so admitted. As far as their admission to the University went, he could see no objection to it. It would be affording a great relief to the Dissenters, while, at the same time, it would be advantageous to the Universities, and could not be injurious to the Established Church. He looked, therefore, at this subject with considerable anxiety; he wished to see it accomplished: but seeing, that in one University, there was a strong feeling in its favour, and having hopes that by some delay it might he accomplished with the concurrence of both those learned bodies, he thought the best way would be, not to press 392 it forward too eagerly. He hoped, therefore, that the measure would not be urged, that it should not appear to be forced upon the country until it could be done in the best possible way—that way, in his opinion, being with the concurrence of the Universities. He had stated thus much, because he thought it right that the views of Government upon the subject should be known at the earliest possible period. He should not enter into the question of Church-rates at present, as the proper time for doing so would be when he should bring forward the measure which was in the contemplation of the Government. Under these circumstances, he should move the previous question, as an Amendment to the Motion of the hon. Member.
§ Mr. Wilks
said, that the Dissenters would feel themselves obliged to his hon. friend the member for Exeter for the line of conduct he had pursued on the present occasion. Several of the explanations of the noble Lord who last spoke would not be, he feared, so satisfactory to the Dissenters and to the country as he, who desired the stability of the present Government, could have wished. He was, however, pleased that the noble Lord had mentioned, that it was the wish of his Majesty's Government to afford the Dissenters every facility in their power. He begged to impress upon his Majesty's Government the fact, that the great mass of the people of England sympathised with the Protestant Dissenters, and that many of the most enlightened members of the Established Church thought, that the Dissenters were not captious in their demands or complaints. Whilst he confessed himself grateful to his hon. friend for the way in which he treated the question, he could not help, on the part of the Protestant Dissenters, taking the liberty of requesting his hon. friend not to urge on the discussion at present, and thereby endanger or delay its final success. He thought that, after what the noble Lord had said on the part of the Government to which he belonged, it would be better not to press the abstract question, but wait until they saw what was to be the nature of the noble Lord's proposition. The House would coincide with him, that it was desirable to suspend all further proceedings until they saw whether the proposed measure was as just as the noble Lord anticipated, and as satisfactory as was expected and desired. 393 Before he concluded, he begged to mention one important circumstance. The question at issue was not one of amount, but of principle. The whole sum paid in rates of this description yearly by Dissenters and others did not amount to more than 600,000.l, of which not more than 200,000l. went for repairing of Churches. When it was considered on what a great number of populous parishes these rates were levied, it would be seen that their pressure must be comparatively insignificant. The Dissenters therefore objected to the demand on principle, and in their behalf he would appeal to the candour of the noble Lord and to the liberality of his Majesty's Government, if they wished to make their proposed measure satisfactory to the great body of Dissenters, to introduce into it a clause or clauses, to exempt them entirely from the payment of Church-rates.
§ Mr. Goulburn
did not wish to interfere at present with the object which the hon. Mover had in view. He did not rise to enter into the question, whether it was fitting to abolish Church-rates or not, nor did he present himself to the notice of the House with a view of discussing the propriety of the measure which the noble Lord stated was in the contemplation of his Majesty's Government. He rose in consequence of an important point to which the noble Lord adverted, and he did so, lest, if he offered no observations upon it, he should appear to acquiesce in the noble Lord's proposition. The point he alluded to referred to the admission of Dissenters to the Universities. He did not know until very lately, that any numbers of the University of Cambridge had petitioned that House upon the question alluded to. He had not seen the Petition in question, nor, indeed, was he thoroughly aware of its existence until he had heard it spoken of by the noble Lord. Such being the fact, he dared not presume to impugn the motives of those who signed the petition. But if the noble Lord, upon the faith of this petition, would tell the House, that one of the Universities, namely, Cambridge, was in favour of the admission of Dissenters, he would willingly take it upon himself to get the great body of that University to disprove the assertion that they were favourable to the admission of Dissenters into the Universities. If it were at all possible, and he was very far from thinking that it was, to carry this point in concurrence with the Universities, 394 the question would then, admitting this improbability, assume quite another shape. For this reason he thought it better for him to reserve all further observations for a future occasion, and at present say not one word more upon the point.
§ Sir Robert Inglis
should not have spoken upon the subject, had it not been for one observation that had fallen from the hon. member for Boston; and he hoped that, as the House had listened to the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman near him, the member for the University of Cambridge, it would also for a few minutes extend its indulgence to him, who had the honour of representing the other great University. The hon. member for Boston had said, that this was not a question of money, but one of principle; and he also stated, that the Dissenters would, by being exempted from rates, be relieved only from their share of the annual payment of 600,000l., out of which 200,000l. was employed for the repair of churches; and that, when this payment was divided among so many parishes, it could not be their wish to be merely relieved from pecuniary burthens. They must have some other object in view. No doubt they had; and he would ask the House, therefore, whether their object was not the humiliation of the Established Church, and whether they were not endeavouring to bring down that Church to the same position in which other sects were now placed? He begged to ask the House, whether they were prepared for this, and whether they wished to make a sacrifice of the union that at, present existed between Church and State? It was because the Dissenters considered that the payment of Church-rates was a recognition of the Established Church, and of its connexion with the State, that they desired to get rid of them. It was self-evident that such was their motive. He had lost the greater part of the speech of the hon. member for Exeter; indeed he had only heard a few of the last words of it, and those related to the connexion between Church and State. It seemed to him that on this point the hon. Member was in error. With respect to the admission of Dissenters into the Universities, he hoped the noble Lord opposite (Lord Althorp) would reconsider the declaration he had made to the House respecting the feelings of one University in favour of the Dissenters. The petition from Cambridge had been made a great deal of; but he would say, that 395 not a third of the members of that University had concurred in it. Since all must admit that two-thirds were greater than one-third, no one could say, that the petition alluded to expressed the feelings of the members of the University of Cambridge, or that that body was favourable to the admission of Dissenters. He had so frequently discussed the principle of Church-rates that he would say little more about them now, than repeat, that they were, both in Ireland as well as in this country, a tax upon property. He would ask the hon. member for Boston, whether he did not think so; and whether, when he was taking the house he at present occupied, he did not take Church-rates into the account as well as tithes, and every other species of tax upon that property? When the proposed Bill was brought before the House, he should discuss the question more fully, and at that time would not further trespass on the House.
§ Mr. Briscoe
agreed, that it would be better that such a measure should emanate spontaneously from the members of the Administration, than have the appearance of being forced upon them. He should, however, take that opportunity of recording his own conviction of the impolicy and injustice of requiring from the Dissenters the payment of Church-rates when they erected, entirely at their own cost, their own chapels, and supported their own ministers. They had, besides, rendered eminent service to the State, by affording instruction and religious consolation to a large portion of the country. He trusted, therefore, that the measure in contemplation of the Government would prove satisfactory, and give complete relief to the Dissenters.
§ Mr. Baines
regretted, that any objection should exist to the admission of Dissenters to the Universities. He could not conceive why they should not be allowed to participate in the benefits of these Universities, seeing they belonged to the same community. He could not forget, that there was a time when the Protestants themselves were interdicted from education in these Universities. He could not forget, that the representatives of the Universities at that period might have risen up and declared that no Protestant ought to be admitted. Happily those days had passed away, and he trusted more liberal days had arrived. He hoped much from 396 the annunciation of the noble Lord, and ventured to anticipate, that, ere long, the Dissenters would be admitted to all those advantages without entertaining a wish to infringe on the benefits due to the Church of England. Dissenters had no wish to deprive the Church of its benefits, but at the same time they felt it hard to be excluded from the University honours, as was the case with a member of his own family, who was obliged to forego the benefits of the institution because he could not take the test necessary as a qualification. He agreed with the hon. member for Boston as to Church-rates, that the principle was the consideration, and not the amount of the money; and he hoped, therefore, the measure contemplated by the Government would not fall short of relieving the Dissenters altogether from this impost; for if it fell short of that, the Dissenters would not be satisfied. With respect to the Bill for regulating Dissenters' marriages, he had no doubt but that it originated in the best intentions; but still the Dissenters were dissatisfied with it, because they could not consent to remain upon a footing inferior to their fellow subjects, by getting from another Church a rite which they should have from their own. If the noble Lord had allowed the bans of marriage to be published in Dissenting chapels instead of in the churches of the Establishment, he thought the measure would be unobjectionable, because it was going to the Established Church to render an account of all marriages, that the Dissenters chiefly objected to. He hoped, that the objectionable parts might yet be obviated, and he believed the best wishes existed with the Government to satisfy the Dissenters; for no body of men in the kingdom had done so much service for the present Government as the Dissenters, who had consequently a right to look to Government for support. He could not consider the claim of Dissenters to burying according to their own rites in Church cemeteries as any great hardship upon the Established Church, for the Dissenters were called upon to pay their share for the ground; and it was not, therefore, unreasonable that they should be allowed to bury their dead according to their own rites. It was the wish of the Dissenters to keep up a good understanding with Ministers, and he trusted the latter would render the measure in contemplation unobjectionable.
§ Mr. Sinclair
agreed with the hon. member for Boston, that this question was one of principle, and the principle seemed to him to be this, shall there, or shall there not, be a Church Establishment? If all who dissented from its communion were to be exoncrated from contributing towards keeping up the edifices in which religious rights are celebrated according to the forms of the Established Church, on what ground could they be called upon to concur in defraying the maintenance of its Ministers? It was urged, that the Dissenters were subjected to the expense of erecting and keeping up their own places of worship: was it not equally true that they supported their own clergy? Might they not, therefore, on a similar ground, and with equal justice, claim exemption from paying any share of the incomes which the law assigned to the Episcopal incumbents of this land? He felt quite persuaded, that the one demand was only the fore-runner of the other, and would be urged with still greater force and plausibility, when the concession, now insisted on, should be made good. He considered that the property of this country, whether belonging to Dissenters or to members of the Church, had, from time immemorial, been liable to this impost, and, without at present entering further into the consideration of a subject, on which discussion had better he waived until a future opportunity, he should express his opposition to the Motion of his hon. friend, because he thought it militated, in an alarming degree, against the principle of maintaining an Established Church in this country.
thought the question one entirely of principle, for no Christian sect ought to be called on to pay for the religion of another Christian sect. It was only the principle of common sense and of common justice. He was sorry the Universities were not open to the Dissenters. In the University of Dublin they had a case in point. Catholics had admission there for some years, and Dissenters were admitted long previously; and yet the Established Church had still all their usual advantages from that institution. The exclusion from the Universities was a superfluous insult to the Protestant Dissenters. These exclusions ought to be done away with, and if the Dissenters would only act for themselves, and make use out of the House of their influence so as 398 to show Ministers what they had to fear from them—if they would only make "a long pull, a strong pull, and a pull altogethe,"—they would obtain more than ever they could expect from their courtesy towards the present Government.
§ Lord John Russell
rose for the purpose of addressing a few observations to the House in reply to what had fallen from the hon. member for Leeds as to the manner in which Government had received the complaints of the Dissenters. The hon. Member said, and said truly, that the Dissenters were the warm friends and supporters of civil and religious liberty. He acknowledged with pleasure, that he had always found them ready to support principles of Liberty and aiding those who were her friends. But it would be in the recollection of the House, that when he and his noble and hon. friends were out of office, it had been their constant aim to protect the Dissenters in the enjoyment of their just rights, or assert their claim from time to time in that House to all the immunities, privileges, and liberties, enjoyed by the rest of his Majesty's subjects, and that since they had been in power they had endeavoured to realise, as far as they were able, the promises they had made, and the expectations they had held out to the great body of Protestant Dissenters. The present Ministers were the friends of the just claims of the Dissenters, because they were the friends of civil and religious liberty, and they had neither been impelled formerly in what they had done, nor were they impelled now in what they were about to do, for the relief of the Dissenters, by what the hon. and learned member for Dublin had alluded to,—namely, by the fear of menaces on the part of that body—any more than they had been, in another instance, deterred by the fear of menaces on the part of their constituents, from urging the claims and advocating the cause of that religious liberty of which the hon. and learned member for Dublin himself now enjoyed the benefit. A great portion of the Dissenters, a large portion of the people of England, were opposed to the Catholic question, but the Members of the present Government supported the Catholic claims, as they bad supported, and did support, the claims of the Dissenters, because they were both founded upon the two great and leading principles of civil and religious liberty. Their main object through life had been the advo- 399 cacy of those principles. They were men bound together as a party for the support of those principles; out of power they had endeavoured to forward them—out of power they had succeeded in getting a great portion of the just claims of the Dissenters conceded; and now that they were in power, there surely should be no doubt and no want of confidence in them as to their bringing forward, in due time and season, the question by which the Dissenters would find, that all their claims would be satisfactorily arranged. The hon. member for Leeds had said, that the bill regarding the marriages of Dissenters had been found fault with by them, as rendering them, in some degree, subservient to the Established Church. It was unfair, on their part, to view it in such a light, and, he trusted that, on calmer consideration, they would not adhere to such an interpretation of that measure. It was not so intended—it never was framed or brought forward for such a purpose. Those who started these objections were not, he was certain, aware of the difficulties which were to be encountered by those who attempted to legislate upon a subject of so much delicacy. The objectors had referred to the case of the Quakers, who were suffered to enjoy unmolested their own forms of marriage, christening, and so forth; but they seemed to overlook the real and obvious distinction between that class of people and the great body of Protestant Dissenters. The Quakers constituted, as it were, but one family, and were numerically a small body of people, providing, within themselves, for almost all their social wants, and regulating their respective concerns with each other by a sort of domestic government. In all these respects, there was nothing in such a people that any Government had anything to dread from leaving them the privileges of marrying and christening according to their own long-established forms. It would be a widely different thing to extend those privileges to so large a portion oft he whole population as the Protestant Dissenters now formed. One obvious consequence would be, to open a fearfully wide door to imposition; for instance, it would be in the power of any one, merely by pretending that he was a Dissenter, to solemnise marriages, without any regard to the restraints which were now wisely enforced through the medium of Church regulations upon the rash formation of such solemn 400 contracts. Indeed, the practice, in these cases, would soon be far less reputable even than that practised on the other side of the borders by persons to whom young people, escaped from their friends, resorted to contract marriages not within their power in their own country; and a man would have only to set apart a room in his house, and adopt the pretext of being a Dissenter to enable him to inflict an unlimited injury on that part of society whose simplicity and defenceless condition ought to make them the particular subjects of the law's protection. This was the view he had taken when considering what ought to be the provisions of the Marriage Bill. The House, however, would never see a termination to these evils until they had established a national registration. To be of practical utility, it was necessary that registration should be complete, embracing all classes of his Majesty's subjects, and also that it should be compulsory. Fully impressed with this idea, he was not inclined to propose an imperfect measure, nor was he disposed to press so important a matter on the attention of the Legislature without the fullest preparation being made to insure its accomplishing these great national objects. From the information procured from various quarters in reference to these subjects, he thought it was likely, after the Poor-laws were settled, they might see their way to a general national registration next year, which should embrace all classes, and include marriages, deaths, and births,—all matters of much importance to families in ascertaining kindred, and the distribution of property. He would assure the hon. member for Boston, that if he (Lord John Russell) had many years ago, in his place in that House, felt it his duty to push the just claims of the Dissenters by every argument and effort within his reach, he would not now, when he possessed some influence, display less anxiety or zeal to procure for them every possible extension of their civil and religious liberty. In giving, however, this assurance to that body, he must accompany it, by adding, that he was, at the same time, prepared to support and uphold the Church of England as by law established, convinced, as he was, by experience, that it was a national benefit, and mainly instrumental in securing the religious liberty we had so long enjoyed.
§ Dr. Lushington
was deeply impressed with the importance of the subject under the consideration of the House; but as his Majesty's Government intended to take it up, he hoped the hon. mover was not prepared to press it with breathless haste. He hoped the assurances given to night by his noble friend would give general content and satisfaction, for the present, to the Protestant Dissenters generally. The House would see that, in following the project of Government as to the proposed general registration, they would have the whole benefit of the information, influence, and weight, that Government, and Government alone, could bring to bear on a measure of such great national interest. Instead of following an isolated measure, or the mode of legislating which had been so ruinously pursued for the last fifty years, by partial acts, to meet each particular evil that pressed on a sensitive portion of society, they should act as became grave and able legislators, and anticipate, by a great measure, the growing wants of the community. He was aware, as well as most who heard him, that if it were ever brought to issue in that House, there was a majority within those walls determined to give the Dissenters the whole of their just demands. Whatever might be the fate of any Bill intended to effect that object in the other House of Parliament, they, as the real representatives of the Dissenters and the whole population of the United Kingdom, backed, as they were, to-night, by the assurance of a Minister, who never pledged his word without an honest intention to redeem it with honour, would be sure, in the end, to prevail, and ensure to these classes of religious professors that which they were strictly entitled to in the eyes of both God and man.
§ Mr. Divett
rose to express his satisfaction with the assurances which had been given to the House on this subject by the noble Lord. He hailed that declaration with the utmost satisfaction, and would willingly leave the subject in the hands of his Majesty's Government. He would, with the leave of the House, withdraw the Motion.
§ Motion withdrawn.