Sir W. Foulkes
presented Petitions from Lynn, Wells, and other places, complaining of the conduct observed towards Mr. Child, of Bungay, by the Ecclesiastical Court, on the subject of demand for Church-rates. He considered the case to be a very hard one—though he believed that Mr. Child had voluntarily submitted.
§ Mr. Hume
presented similar petitions from Needham, Diss, and Bungay; they also praying for an alteration of the laws on this subject, and under which Mr. Child had been proceeded against. The last petition was from Bungay, the place of Mr. Child's residence. In that place there were 910 householders. He believed that there were not above 30 householders who had not signed this petition.
§ Lord Henniker
said, that he rose for the purpose, not of making any observations on Church-rates, but in order to vindicate the character of two individuals, namely, the Churchwardens of Bungay, who had been unfairly dealt with, respectting this affair. When he made his statement he was sure that it would appear to the House that the Churchwardens of Bungay were guilty of no harshness towards Mr. Child, and all that they had done was justified by the letter of the law. In saying this, he meant no offence towards Mr. Child, or towards any Gentleman, 52 who, from conscientious motives, should think fit to demur to the payment of Church-rates. He agreed with the hon. Member for West Norfolk as to the good character and respectability of Mr. Child. With the permission of the House, he would then enter on the statement which he had received touching the allegations of the petitions. Until the year 1833 no opposition was made at Bungay to the payment of Church-rates. At that time a payment of Church-rates was objected to by one or two Gentlemen, one of whom was a relation of Mr. Child. Their goods were distrained, but they were brought up and returned to them under circumstances of considerable excitement in the town of Bungay. He was aware that his statement would be denied by Gentlemen who took the opposite side of the Question; such denial, however, would not make it the less true. In 1834, another Church-rate was made; there was no objection made at the time of making it, except as to the period of its being levied. The reasons why the Churchwardens thought proper to take the case to be decided by the Diocesan Court of Norwich were the following:—One of the Magistrates of Bungay was a clergyman, and they desired, to prevent the recurrence of the excitement which prevailed in 1833 in consequence of goods being distrained for Church-rates. The Churchwardens also deemed the Consistory Court of Norwich the best place to have the Question decided, and that its being decided there would finally settle the Question Mr. Child had raised. The Churchwardens had given Mr. Child many opportunities of paying the rates in Question, without subjecting him to any costs. The other Gentlemen, when called upon, consented to pay their rates, but Mr. Child alone, after many solicitations, refused to pay his rates; and, besides, he said that he would hold no further communication on the subject with the Churchwardens of Bungay. The consequence of his repeated refusals was, that a citation from the Ecclesiastical Court was issued to him, yet even after this proceeding one or two opportunities were given to Mr. Child to enable him to pay the rates without subjecting him to costs. He still refused, and the proceedings before the Ecclesiastical Court were carried on, the necessity for which no one more than he regretted. He was glad to congratulate the hon. 53 member for Middlesex on the fact of his having learned that morning that Mr. Child had been released from confinement. He repeated, that no one more than he regretted what had occurred to Mr. Child, and he felt confident that the facts which he had now stated would be borne out by the returns moved for, relative to this affair, by an hon. Member opposite.
§ Mr. Hume
was happy to hear from the noble Lord a full admission of the respectability of Mr. Child, an admission, however, which was totally unnecessary for those who knew as he did, that Mr. Child had resided in Bungay for the last thirty years, and that he kept forty individuals in constant employment. It was important, however, that the House should look, not so much to the character of the individual as to the operation of the law of which that individual complained. In the petition of Mr. Child, which had just been placed on the Table of the House, he prayed that the House would alter the law respecting Church-rates. Now, let the House see what the circumstances were which had induced him to come to that conclusion. Mr. Child is a Dissenter. He was rated to the Church-rates, and having conscientious scruples, which induced him to think that he ought not to contribute to the support of a Church in whose doctrines he did not and could not believe, he had refused to pay his quota of those rates. Such was the course regularly pursued by every Quaker in the country. What, then, was the course adopted towards Mr. Child? When Mr. Child refused to pay the 17s. 6d. which was charged against him as his share of the rates, some of his friends, and among them he (Mr. Hume) believed were the Churchwardens, of whom Mr. Child did not complain as men, but as the public functionaries of an oppressive law, offered to pay the money for him, but Mr. Child would not consent to any such sacrifice of principle. He refused to pay at all, and said, "I do not oppose your seizing my goods—seize them, and sell them if you like." The clergyman had also written a letter to Mr. Child, in which he asked, "Do you dispute the validity of the rate?" and the answer of Mr. Child was, "I do not dispute its validity." By so doing Mr. Child admitted the validity of the claim, and left the officers of the Church to do their duty, What then was it that Mr. 54 Child, and that he in Mr. Child's name, complained of? He would briefly inform the House. The 53rd of George 4th, chap. 127, was passed for the purpose of giving the Churchwardens an easy mode of getting in the Church-rates, and in all cases where parties refused to pay an assessment of less than 10l., it gave power to two Magistrates to issue, under their hands, a warrant of distress against the goods and chattels of the parties so refusing. He had no pretensions to be a learned personage—he spoke as one of the unlearned; but to him it appeared that, although the right of bringing parties into the Ecclesiastical Courts for an amount of Church-rates less than 10l. was not taken away by that Statute in express words, it was evidently intended to repeal that right, except in cases where the sum to be recovered was above 10l., by giving this summary process before two Magistrates, against the goods where the sum to be recovered was under 10l. With a full knowledge of the powers given to them by the 53rd George 4th, the Churchwardens cited Mr. Child to appear before the Consistorial Court of Norwich. What then said Mr. Child? "I have refused to pay you this money, because it goes to the support of a Church in which I do not believe. I must also refuse obedience to your Ecclesiastical jurisdiction, because it proceeds from the same Church." Well—this language was called a contempt of court—and for acting upon it Mr. Child was lodged in Ipswich gaol; and there he might have lain till the end of the present year, and indeed till the end of ten years to come, had not some person purged the contempt for him by entering an appearance to the citation. Mr. Child said, and he said so too,—that it was an act of oppression on the part of the parish authorities to have adopted this mode of getting their money, when they could have got it by a much easier process pointed out by the Statute. It was a stretch of authority tyrannical in its kind, and likely to bring the Church itself into disrepute. What, he would ask, had brought the Irish Church into disrepute save its tyrannical exercise of power in the collection of tithes? A vexatious levy of any impost contrary to the common feelings, of the country must of necessity be followed by such a result. The hon. Member then proceeded to mention, that m a recent discussion upon 55 Church-rates, a Minister of the Crown in his place in Parliament had said, that they were unwarrantable, and ought not to be levied. Now, he had a minute of the proceedings at the last vestry held in this parish, and from that minute he found, that many of the expenses for which this Church-rate was to be levied were expenses which, according to the declaration of Lord Althorp, ought not to be levied under the shape of Church-rates. He contended, that the time and mode of levying this Church-rate from Mr. Child were equally ill-chosen, and therefore he designated the whole of the proceedings against that individual as a series of oppressions. The noble Lord had stated an excuse for the Churchwardens, which had appeared already in one of the country newspapers. In the Ipswich Journal it was said, that "recourse had been had to the Ecclesiastical Court at Norwich, because the Churchwardens had not been able to recover the Church-rates from another individual in the preceding year, under the 53rd of George 4th." Now, he had from that very individual, Mr. John Morris, a letter, of which he would read a short extract to the House:—"Having seen a paragraph in the Ipswich Journal, in which it is stated, that a process in the Ecclesiastical Court was instituted against Mr. Child, because a process under the Statute could not be carried into effect last year in my own person, I have only to say, that a more infamous falsehood cannot be propagated. So far was there from being any tumult when the Churchwardens sold my property in 1833, under a distress warrant, that I entertained doubts whether the whole measure was not illegal from the clandestine nature of the sale. I published a handbill at the time, stating the mode in which the sale was conducted." In another part of the same letter the writer said—"Great excitement existed afterwards because the goods, which by law ought to have been sold publicly, had been sold clandestinely." Now, supposing, that there had been excitement occasioned by that transaction, still that excitement was no excuse for this oppressive and tyrannical mode of proceeding against Mr. Child. To show that the Churchwardens had no grounds for charging Mr. Child with any intention of resisting the Church-rate, he read a letter which that individual had written to the Church- 56 wardens, informing them that he should make no resistance to it; that they might take his goods and sell them, and that out of the proceeds of the sale, they could pay the rate. He again denounced the conduct of the authorities towards Mr. Child as most vexatious. He hoped that he should have the pleasure of hearing from the noble Lord opposite, or from some of his colleagues, that they were prepared to bring forward some measure which would prevent such insults as these from being again inflicted on any respectable householder like Mr. Child. If the partisans of the Established Church wished for its maintenance in a state of utility for their own purposes, they must put a stop to all such abuses of authority as this. It was impossible that the people of England should long continue to pay Church-rates, now that they saw all such rates abolished in Ireland.
§ Mr. Fitzroy Kelly
said, that if the petitioners had contented themselves with stating facts in their petitions, or if they had confined themselves to animadversions on the state of the law to which their petitions referred, he should not have felt it necessary to trouble the House with any observations on this occasion. He concurred with all the hon. Gentlemen who had stated, that the Church-rates formed a subject which required the early and deep consideration of Parliament. That was not, however, the question, at that moment. The Question was, whether this Petition, stating such facts as it did, and coming to such a conclusion as it did, ought to be laid on the Table of the House. He hoped that the House would not allow petitions to be made a channel for base, cowardly, and malignant calumnies against private individuals. To prove that he was not using language unsuitable to the occasion, he would call the attention of the House to the few but strong words with which the petition concluded:—"Your petitioners, therefore, pray your hon. House to pass some measure for the immediate abolition of the barbarous and anomalous powers of the Ecclesiastical Courts." [Cheers.] He heard those cheers without regret, for he complained of no man who confined his complaints to the existing state of the law: but the petition went on—"powers inconsistent with all the principles of the British law, and capable of 57 being employed, as in this instance, to indulge feelings of private malice, and to gratify the rancour of religious intolerance." Now, he asked the House, whether a petition containing such language—a petition charging some members of the Church of England with converting the law into an engine for gratifying the rancour of religious animosity, ought to be received by that House? When the facts connected with this case were stated to the House, and he hoped that he should be able to state them very briefly, it would be found at least, that it was a gross abuse of the power of petitioning to charge any individual with rancour. The reverend individual against whom this petition was presented conferred honour upon the order to which he belonged. That assertion rested not on his unsupported authority, but on the universal testimony of all who knew him; and when he mentioned the name of Archdeacon Glover, he was sure that no man would dispute his piety, his humanity, or his amiability of temper. In the year 1833, certain Church-rates were to be collected in the parish of Bungay. All the inhabitants of the parish who were liable to the rates paid them, with the exception of two. Those two persons having refused to pay them—having assigned no satisfactory reason for not paying them—having been applied to for the reasons why they refused to pay them—having refused on that application to assign any reasons—having been asked whether they wanted any indulgence as to time from the parish on the score of poverty, or on any other ground—and having still declined all reply, a complaint was made against them before two Magistrates, and a warrant of distraint was issued against their goods and chattels. Without making any complaint of poverty, they allowed their goods to be seized under the Act. They were seized, and notwithstanding what had been stated that evening, a tumult took place in the town upon the seizure. He had this fact npon the authority of the three individuals, two of whom he knew personally, and all of whom were known to several Members of that House. The hon. Member for Middlesex, who could hardly deny the tumult, ascribed it, not to the circumstance of the goods being seized, but to the fact of their having been sold privately instead of publicly. Now there was nothing in 58 the Statute which required the goods to be publicly sold; and he affirmed as a lawyer, and he appealed to those Members of the profession whom he saw around him in the House, whether, when they heard of proceedings in the courts of law respecting the vexatious sale of goods, the publicity of the sale was not generally charged against the parties as a proof of their cruelty and oppression, and of their wish to expose the distressed circumstances of the parties to the knowledge of their neighbours. He felt assured that it would turn out that some false colouring had been given to the statement which the hon. Member for Middlesex had that evening laid before the House, for if the goods were not sold legally, or if they were sold privately, when they ought to have been sold publicly, he was sure that some measures would have been taken to obtain public redress for that illegality. He repeated, that he had it upon excellent authority, that these proceedings had occasioned a tumult in Bungay. Ultimately, the goods were either sold or restored; he had been told, they were restored. This year the Church-rates were again to be collected. All the inhabitants of the parish paid them without a murmur, except three individuals; two of them were the recusants of the former year, and the third was the present petitioner, Mr. Child. On their refusing to pay these Church-rates, applications were made to them requesting them to obey the law, or to state the reasons why they would not. An intimation was also made to them, that if they could not pay them from poverty, indulgence would be afforded them in point of time. The two individuals against whom proceedings had been taken last year, paid their rates without complaining. Mr. Child alone refused to pay. He is a printer, in a respectable way of business; but he chose to disobey and defy the law, assigning no reason, and complaining of no want of indulgence. What course was then open to the Churchwardens to adopt? It was said, that there were two modes of recovering these rates—the one by process issued by the Ecclesiastical Courts, and the other by the Statute to which the hon. Member for Middlesex had referred. Now, if it were to be said, that the Statute repealed the authority of the Ecclesiastical Courts in all cases under 10l., then were all the proceedings against Mr. Child 59 void, and he had his remedy at law. If it should appear that this was a doubtful Question on the construction of the Act, and that the Churchwardens had taken a wrong course, they had exposed themselves to an action at law at the suit of Mr. Child, in which full damages for any wrong he had sustained, could be recovered against them. If so, that House was not a fitting place to discuss a question which could be better discussed in a Court of Law. The House, he was sure, would not prejudge the question, whether it were a question of construction as to the law, or a question of fact as to the damages. With regard to the motives of the parties who had originated these proceedings, the question was very different. They were obliged by law to collect the rates, and they could only do so by seizing, distraining, and selling the recusant's goods under the Statute—a measure which had created so much tumult last year, or by instituting a process in the Ecclesiastical Courts. Believing both these remedies to be open to them, they had resorted to the Ecclesiastical Court, and they had done so from a fear lest they should have the recurrence of riot similar to that which had taken place last year, or even proceedings of a more violent nature. Being connected, then, with a religion of peace, they had recourse to the Ecclesiastical Courts. There was also a stronger reason for their doing so. As long as the law imposed Church-rates, it was better that all personal interference by ministers of the Church for their payment should be avoided. Now, in the Bungay district there were only two Magistrates, and a warrant of distraint against the goods and chattels of any person for the non-payment of Church-rates, required the signature of two Magistrates. Of the two Magistrates residing in the Bungay district, one was a clergyman of the Church of England; and it was thought prudent not only by the two Churchwardens, but also by Archdeacon Glover, who was acquainted with the whole course of these proceedings, that if the law were resorted to, it should be resorted to without any interference on the part of any member of the Church. The remedy by Statute could not, as he had now shown, be enforced at Bungay without the interference of a clergyman, and therefore application was made to the Ecclesiastical Court. There was also another reason. They 60 knew that if this question were to be decided before two Magistrates residing in the neighbourhood, they would be open to the charge of having called in Magistrates of their own to decide a question in which they took an interest as parties, whereas, if it were sent to the Ecclesiastical Court at a distance, it would be known that they had sent it to the decision of a party to whom they were perfect strangers. When the case was once in the Ecclesiastical Courts they had no choice, but must needs adopt the course which they had done, and arrest the person of the individual, who had been guilty of contempt. The writ on which he was captured, was endorsed "No bail;" but that was only a caution to the officer, that he was not entitled to take bail. The hon. Member for Middlesex had charged the Churchwardens with cruelty and oppression. Now, the Churchwardens did not deserve such a character. They had a public duty to perform, and they would have neglected that duty if they had not exacted the dues to which they were entitled by law. They had repeatedly made friendly applications to Mr. Child to do what he could to obey the law: but he stood on what he deemed conscientious scruples, and refused all compliance with their requests. Had he then a right, when every indulgence had been shown him, to come to that House and complain not only of the state of the law, but also of the conduct of individuals? He had only one fact more with which to trouble the House—and that was, that when the costs amounted to treble the sum to be raised, an offer was made to Mr. Child, that if he would pay the original sum of 17s. 6d., the clergyman of the parish would pay the costs. If an individual was determined to place himself above the law, the question which the House had to decide, when he came before it for redress of grievances, which he brought down by such conduct on his own head, was whether they would aid him in putting the law under his feet? He had only to state in conclusion, that he felt it due to the character of the individuals in question, who were most respectable persons, to vindicate their conduct, which he trusted he had done sufficiently by laying the plain facts of the case before the House.
§ Lord John Russell
was willing to believe from all he had heard, and from the account which had been transmitted 61 to him, under the hands of the Churchwardens, and by the Archdeacon of Bungay, whose name was, unquestionably, entitled to that respect which the hon. and learned Gentleman had ascribed to it—he was inclined, he said, to believe, from that account, that the irritation which had been produced by this case—that the hardship which had been suffered by Mr. Child—that the oppression which, in the eyes not only of Mr. Child, but of the great body of the Dissenters, and, he might say, of a great portion of the people of this country, had been exercised in this case—was not intended by the Churchwardens, and the other parochial authorities of Bungay. The statement made on their behalf was, that during the last year some individuals in the parish of Bungay had refused to pay a certain rate, upon which their goods were distrained, but had been afterwards restored to them under circumstances of considerable tumult and excitement. In consequence of this occurrence the Churchwardens thought it better to adopt another course in enforcing the rate, by which means a recurrence of the same scenes of disturbance might be avoided, and they therefore took the case of Mr. Child to another court, and before a jurisdiction different from that of the Magistrates in the neighbourhood of Bungay. The motives which operated on the minds of the Churchwardens, and induced them to act thus, were apparent; but he thought their decision most unfortunate, and could not consider them as being justified in taking the course they had adopted on this occasion. By the adoption of this course they were obliged to imprison the person of Mr. Child, a man of the highest respectability, who acted on conscientious motives in refusing to pay the rate; and this imprisonment could not fail to excite sympathy and indignation in the minds of a great body of persons: whereas if the Churchwardens had proceeded against the party's goods, as was generally done in the case of Quakers, they might have distrained for the recovery of the Church-rate, and the greater part, if not the whole, of the irritation would probably have been avoided. But there was another reason why the Churchwardens should not have proceeded in the manner they had adopted. He was inclined to believe, looking at the meaning of the act of the 53rd of George 3rd., that the Legislature intended that in claims 62 for sums under 10l. a remedy should not be sought in the Ecclesiastical Courts. A proviso in the act referred to by the hon. Member for Middlesex showed that such was the intention. The proviso was this—Provided always that nothing herein contained shall be construed to alter or abolish the jurisdiction of the Ecclesiastical Courts to hear and determine causes with respect to church-rates, and proceeding to enforce payment for the same in cases in which the sums due exceed the sum of 10l. It was clear from this proviso that if the rate did not exceed 10l. the Ecclesiastical Court was debarred from interfering. Such being the case, he thought that the Churchwardens had much better have adopted the remedy which they resorted to last year, and that they ought not to have proceeded to the imprisonment of the person of Mr. Child. But if any doubt existed as to whether or not it was now in conformity with the law that claims for sums not exceeding 10l should not be carried into the Ecclesiastical Court, the Legislature would do well to settle the point and explicitly declare what was to be the practice in future. Having said so much in reference to the case of Mr. Child, he wished to add a word in consequence of what had fallen from the hon. Member for Middlesex, who had expressed a hope that Ministers were prepared to undertake a speedy settlement of the Question of Church-rates. After what was stated by his noble Friend (Earl Spencer) in the House of Commons last year, in bringing in the Church-rate Bill, and after the settled resolution of Earl Grey's Government upon this Question, he did not feel the slightest hesitation in declaring that he thought it most desirable the Question should be settled and Church-rates abolished. But there was a difference of opinion between the Ministers and many of those who called for the abolition of the rates in consequence of the principle laid down by his noble Friend (Earl Spencer). That principle was, that "while the Dissenters had a right to call upon the Legislature not to require them to pay money for a Church which was contrary to their principles, the Members of the Establishment had a right also to say that their interests should receive all due attention, and that their principles should be respected. One of these principles certainly was, one of the consequences of having an established Church 63 was, that means should be provided by the Legislature for the support of the fabric of the Church." Some of the advocates of the abolition of the rate objected to this principle, but he (Lord John Russell) was decidedly of the opinion declared by his noble Friend on that occasion. He thought it the duty of a Legislature wishing to maintain an established Church to provide that the Churches of the Establishment should be kept in proper repair; therefore any measure to which he might be a party he did not hesitate to state should provide for the accomplishment of that object. This was his opinion when his noble Friend brought the subject of Church-rates before the House last year; it was also his opinion at present. In this state of the Question it was important to consider the subject most deliberately, and with the utmost caution, and it was therefore necessary to have before them all the facts likely to come before Parliament and the public, not only through the labours of the Church Commission, appointed by Earl Grey's Government, but by means of the Ecclesiastical Commission nominated by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, which he hoped to see renewed. With respect to bringing forward the Question of Church-rates in the present session, Ministers had resolved to undertake to propose to Parliament during this session a question of great magnitude, importance, extent, and detail, with respect to the Municipal Corporations of England and Wales. They had also resolved to bring forward in no long time a measure not only regulating the question of tithes in Ireland, but calculated to carry into effect the resolution which he had the honour to move with respect to the application of the surplus funds of the Established Church in that country. If he had gained anything by the experience of the last three years, in which he had been a Member of the Government, it was a knowledge of the impropriety of undertaking too much at one time. The Cabinet of Earl Grey had frequently fallen into difficulties by undertaking too great a multiplicity of measures. Within the last four years,—measures exceeding in importance and magnitude any that, during a similar period, had ever been proposed and carried by any Government, had been completed; at the same time it must be admitted that there were various other questions brought before Parliament, 64 which at the end of the Session, in the month of August, the Ministers found themselves unable to carry forward, through want of sufficient time for due consideration. Therefore, ready, as he felt, to consider any questions that had been brought before the House by the late Government, willing as he was to pay attention to measures proposed by individual members, he would not undertake, on the part of the Government to go further than those two Questions of Municipal Reform in England and Wales, and the regulation of tithes in Ireland. He would not undertake in the present session to bring forward a measure on the subject of Church-rates; it was a question, however, on which his opinions were well known, and he should be always happy to communicate with Protestant Dissenters upon any subject which they might consider a grievance, with a view to their relief in all cases of well-founded complaint.
§ Sir Robert Peel
had nothing to find fault with in respect to the principle which the noble Lord had announced on the subject of Church-rates, since the noble Lord had plainly said, that it was an essential condition of the existence of an Established Church that the state should provide for the maintenance and repair of the fabric of the Church. [Mr. Hume: "No, no." Lord John Russell: "Yes."] He hoped that the noble Lord might be allowed to be the interpreter of his own opinions: he certainly so understood the noble Lord, and at the moment when the noble Lord was assenting to his construction of the noble Lord's own words, he thought he might take that assent, to be the correct indication of the noble Lord's opinion, notwithstanding the peremptory contradiction which some one behind him gave to the representation. The noble Lord, in the conclusion of his speech, as if to remove all doubt on the matter, had explicitly declared that "his opinions on the subject of Church-rates were well known; and from that he inferred, that the noble Lord still maintained the opinions which he had publicly announced on the occasion when the present Earl Spencer brought forward the Question of Church-rates. Even if the noble Lord had not made the declaration that his opinions continued unchanged, he felt no disposition, as he had no reason or motive, to impute any change of sentiment to the 65 noble Lord. In regard to the principle that the State was bound to maintain and repair the fabric of the Church,—it is the same with that maintained by Lord Althorp when he announced his intention to relieve Dissenters from as much as possible of the burden complained of Lord Althorp stated that he found the total amount annually expended on the repairs, and for the service of churches and chapels in England and Wales, and raised by Church-rates, to have been between 500,000l. and 600,000l. The noble Lord said, that with respect to a large portion of this sum he made no provision, throwing the necessity of providing for the expenses incidental to the performance of divine service and other similar matters upon members of the Church itself; the noble Lord's observation were to this effect "The members of the Establishment had a right also to say, that their interests should receive all due attention, and that their principles should be respected; one of those principles certainly was, that means should be provided by the Legislature, for the support of the fabric of the church:"—the noble Lord added. "Another point, not immediately relevant to the Question, but which the Committee would not fail to take in view, was that the effect of the new plan would be not only to relieve Dissenters from their scruples, but the people of England from a considerable amount of taxation. It was proposed to apply 250,000l. from the land-tax, but the sum hitherto annually expended upon churches and chapels in England and Wales and raised by Church-rate, was between 500,000l. and 600,000l. by the latest return upon the Table. The relief from taxation, pressing upon the body of the people, would thus be important and would amount to the difference or nearly so, between 250,000l. and 560,000l. The expenditure had no doubt been extravagant in many instances, for sometimes the Churchwardens and vestry who ought to have guarded the interests of the parish, were benefited by the expenditure."* Such were the principles on which the then Chancellor of the Exchequer made his proposition, a principle to which the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) and the rest of his colleagues gave their full assent. The noble Lord opposite supported the plan* Hansard, (third series) vol. xxii. pp. 10—14 and 10—18.66 of Lord Althorp, in a speech to the sentiments of which, no doubt, the noble Lord still adhered. The resolution moved by Lord Althorp, abolishing Church-rates, and granting 250,000l. for the repair of churches, was met by a counter-proposition from the hon. Member for Middlesex, providing that after a time to be fixed, the payment of Church-rates in England and Wales should cease and determine. This proposition was declared by Lord Althorp to differ in principle from his, and on that ground the noble Lord and his colleagues resisted it. Church-rates were to be absolutely abolished, and no substitute provided. Upon this Question the House divided. He had the satisfaction of dividing in company with the noble Lord opposite, and with the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, when, by a majority of 256 against 140, they negatived the proposition of the hon. Member for Middlesex, that the repair of the fabric of the Church was a public charge, and maintained the grant of 250,000l. from the public funds for that express purpose. He had thus shown that the noble Lord's principle differed from that opposed to it by the hon. Member for Middlesex, and he now heard with great satisfaction that the noble Lord still adhered to that opinion, which he had maintained with great ability on the occasion in question; and although he now proposed delay in the settlement of the great Question of Church-rates, on the principle on which the settlement should be made, the noble Lord had not changed his mind. He would not attempt to gain popularity, at the expense of the noble Lord, by concealing what he had himself intended to do, and therefore he now declared, that although in the course of the present Session he should have attempted had he remained in office, to effect an immediate settlement of Church-rates, yet it was his intention to adopt the principle of the noble Lord—to extinguish all equivocal and objectional charges, but to provide for the repair of the fabric of the Church out of the general revenue of the country, by an annual provision, to the extent and for the objects contemplated by the noble Lord. It was right that the noble Lord should have the benefit of this declaration. He must add, however, that he should not have proposed to impose the charge substituted for Church-rate especially upon the Land-tax. In fact, that was a mere 67 delusion, which meant neither more nor less than a contribution from the general revenues of the State, although it sounded plausibly at first. His proposition would not have been to take the necessary Funds for the maintenance and repair of Churches in England and Wales directly out of the revenues of the State. It would have been connected with propositions for the relief of the occupying- tenant in Ireland from arrears of tithes, and for the grant of money to Scotland, for the purpose of providing permanent endowments in certain cases in that country, for the ministers of the Established Church, these being the equivalent advantages intended for other parts of the empire, in order to compensate for the relief given to England in the shape of an abolition of Church-rates. The satisfaction with which he had heard the expression of the noble Lord's unchanged opinion was greatly qualified by the noble Lord's declaration that he intended to leave this question of Church-rates in its present state during the course of another year. This was a great practical Question requiring adjustment, and he must say, that the noble Lord was under peculiar obligations to settle it as speedily as possible. The noble Lord had referred to the conduct of Churchwardens in compelling individuals to pay Church-rates by harsh methods, but the Churchwardens might, and would refer the noble Lord to his own Act of 1834, in which he and his then colleagues had asserted the principle of abolishing Church-rates, and providing a substitute for their payment out of the revenues of the State. And could the noble Lord be surprised at difficulty arising in the collection of the rate, and at the manifestation of an indisposition to pay it, when Government brought in a measure for the abolition of Church-rates in April, 1834, and when in June, 1835, the noble Lord said although his opinions and principles remained unchanged, yet he was not now prepared to bring his principles to a practical conclusion? He could see no grounds on which, since the noble Lord did still adhere to his principles, he could decline to bring forward without delay the subject of Church-rates with a view to its immediate settlement. He had on more than one occasion remarked, that it was unfortunate that the late Government brought measures under discussion, without that full previous consideration which 68 was essential to their satisfactory adjustment, that they agitated the public mind by renouncing certain principles, and did not afterwards calm the disquiet they had caued, by any practical settlement of the Question at issue. The noble Lord now confirmed the general correctness of such a statement, for the noble Lord now admitted that attempts had been made at legislation by himself and his Friends, in this case and in others, which has proved very unsuccessful. He was always pleased when he could offer a practical proof in the support of the statement of a Minister of the Crown, and he undertook to say that never was a truer statement made by man than that the noble Lord and his colleagues had some times proposed measures with an inconsiderate zeal, and precipitation which left matters worse than they found them. The attempt at legislation, with regard to Church-rates, was a signal proof of the justice of the noble Lord's remark. Lord Althorp, in proposing a grant in lieu of Church-rates, had said, that in addition to the 250,000l. annually to be provided for, he believed there was a debt of about 80,000l. (the Church-rates having been mortgaged in certain instances), and some other small sums, but that those incumbrances could be easily provided for. Haying heard this statement from the noble Lord, he determined to ascertain what those small sums were, and he therefore called for returns as to the amount of Church-rates mortgaged, outstanding debts for building churches, &c, and he found that instead of an incumbrance on the rates of 80,000l., as stated by Lord Althorp, 827,000l. was the actual amount of debt due, and concurring with the noble Lord on the principle of Church-rates, and being desirous of carrying that principle into effect, he had to inform the noble Lord that all the information which he had collected, in respect to Church-rates, and the amount of existing debts for which those rates were a security, was entirely at the service of the noble Lord. With respect to Municipal Corporations, he was not about to say a word on that Question; but without undervaluing its importance, he must observe that the subject of Church-rates did not yield to it in urgency So far as any question could be important to the maintenance of social harmony, to the promotion of satisfaction among the great body of the Dissenters, there was not a single Question excepting that of the 69 Irish Church, which so much pressed for an immediate practical settlement as this of Church-rates. He had understood that one of the main grounds on which he had been dispossessed of office, was, because Gentlemen opposite thought, that his accession to office had a tendency to interrupt several practical measures of improvement, which had been under mature consideration in the preceding Cabinet, and which had been only nipped in the bud by the untimely frost that set in about the 15th of November last. Was not the following proposed and carried as part of an Amendment on the Address to the Crown at the opening of Parliament? "To represent to his Majesty, that his Majesty's faithful Commons beg leave submissively to add, that they cannot but lament that the progress of these and other Reforms should have been endangered by the unnecessary dissolution of a Parliament, earnestly intent upon the vigorous prosecution of measures to which the wishes of the people were most anxiously and justly directed." If any one had asked him, what were the particular measures in addition to Corporation Reform, to which this Amendment referred as having been interrupted and endangered, by his accession to office, he should at once have answered, "A settlement of the Tithe Question in England, as well as in Ireland, the abolition of Church-rates, and relief to Dissenters in respect to the ceremony of marriage." These were the three measures which the late Parliament had under consideration, they had indeed done little towards the settlement of them, but they appeared 'earnestly intent upon them.' What might happen with respect to tithes in this country, he could not tell; the House had heard the noble Lord say, that he contemplated no other measures than Corporation Reform, and an Irish Church Bill, and all hope of commutation of tithes in England, he apprehended, was over for the present, and in like manner the Dissenters' Marriage Bill and a substitution for Church-rates, were to be postponed also. We had heard a novel reason for delay from a high authority on such subjects, one on which the noble Lord exceedingly relied—namely, the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets. His opinion now was that you must not touch any single subject, that you must not indulge in partial views, or take up individual ques- 70 tions, but must consider the bearings of the Questions of Marriage, Church-rates, Tithes, Registrations, and Church Reform, connectedly, and as parts of a great and entire whole; and having done so, you must bring in large and philosophical measures, harmoniously combined, and calculated to ensure universal content and satisfaction. Now, if he had said to the House, "Don't legislate on single subjects, do nothing till you can provide for the complete arrangement of everything, and settle all Questions together, including Tithes, Church-rates, Marriage, Registration, and Church Reform—don't venture to touch one Question till you are prepared to deal with all,"—then, indeed, they might have justly inferred, that the dissolution of the last Parliament had interrupted and endangered the progress of Reform, there indeed then would have been some foundation for their alarm, some justification for their amendment to the address. If the Government of Lord Melbourne had, as far back as November last, directed their attention to the subject of tithes and Church-rates, and had made up their minds on those Questions, they must be now prepared to bring them forward. They probably had done nothing more in these matters than they had done in many others, they were prepared to condemn what they found established, to declare that the existing law ought to be abolished, to make it, by virtue of such a declaration proceeding from such an authority, very difficult of execution, and to trust to chance for the future discovery of a substitute.
A Government had other duties to perform, than that of merely joining in an outcry against an unpopular law. They ought, at least, to follow up the condemnation of that which existed, with the immediate proposal of a substitute. To take any other course was to weaken the authority of all law, to habituate the public mind, to the absence of salutary restraint, and to diminish the hope of a satisfactory adjustment of that which might require reformation. And on this subject of Church-rates, surely the noble Lord, adhering as he professed, to his former principle, and being in possession of all the facts of the case, surely the noble Lord himself, one of the parties to the Bill of Lord Althorp, and being now perfectly able to accomplish his object, surely he 71 was bound to proceed, and not to leave unsettled for another year, a subject so pregnant with the seeds of discord and collision. In consideration of the interests of the Church Establishment, for the satisfaction of a large body of the people,—for the accomplishment of their own pledges—to promote subordination and obedience to the law—to suppress individual complaints of grievance—surely to accomplish all these objects, a Government fit to be intrusted with the management of public affairs would, without delay, take this matter into their own hands, and not suffer the law respecting Church-rates to be made a theme of discussion in public meetings, and a subject of resistance by parochial martyrs for another twelvemonth.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer
said, the right hon. Baronet certainly has made a very able speech, but he has not made quite a candid one. Let us consider as shortly as possible what is the argument of the right hon. Gentleman. He has argued altogether as if (and I put it to the House whether the two cases are at all similar)—as if the present Government stood now in the position in which it would have stood, if that change of Government, which took place in November last, had not occurred, and if that change had not been succeeded by a general election. There is not one single word contained in the amended Address to the Throne which I do not now re-avow, as strongly as I voted for it before. If, indeed, the events which took place in November, and which were in February brought under the consideration of the House, had not produced delay, if they had not impeded the course of Reform, then I admit that that Address would have been false, and that the House ought not to have passed it. But if, on the other hand, the occurrences of November have had the effect of impeding the course of safe and useful Reform, then the position in which the House is now placed is not a position which the majority who voted for that Address is at liberty to impute to us. It is to those causes that we have a right to refer that position. The right hon. Baronet well knows that the interval between the month of November and the meeting of Parliament in the month of February, is of all intervals, that which enables the Government to meet Parliament with the best effect. Of that advantage Lord Melbourne's Government 72 was deprived. For some time after the dissolution of Lord Melbourne's Administration, an anomalous state of things existed, during which it was doubtful whether the country possessed any Government at all. When the right hon. Baronet returned from the Continent, he assumed the reins of Government, and he had the advantage of the interval before the meeting of Parliament to prepare his measures. Sir, the right hon. Baronet has profited by an admission made by my noble Friend who sits near me—a concession applicable to a particular state of things which then existed, but one which the right hon. Baronet very ingeniously seemed to consider an admission on his part that the late Government—that Lord Grey's Government—did nothing but bring forward incomplete and ill-digested measures. Why, Sir, any one who heard the right hon. Baronet, without a previous knowledge of the fact, would have been induced to imagine that Lord Grey's Government had never settled the Question of the Bank Charter—that Lord Grey's Government had never settled the Question of the East-India Charter—that Lord Grey's Government had not, through the agency of my noble Friend who sits below the gangway (Lord Stanley), settled the West-India Question—no inconsiderable one in itself. The right hon. Baronet himself will not deny—though there are persons not very far from him who will—that the settlement of the Poor-law Question was no inconsiderable item among the great and burdensome measures which that Administration undertook; and hon. Gentlemen who sit on this side of the House will at least think that the settlement of the Question of Parliamentary Reform was not so unimportant as to be altogether excluded from notice or observation. Well, Sir, in what position do we now find ourselves with respect to the proceedings of the present Session? In the month of May—towards the close of that month—the Government are called upon to propose measures to Parliament. Is it wise or is it just that they should undertake, or would it be wise or just for the House to wish them to undertake more than they can reasonably hope to fulfil within the Session? If we did so, we certainly should disappoint the just and reasonable expectations of the country; if we did so, then indeed the taunts of the right hon. Baronet would become 73 applicable to the course which rightly or wrongly, he imputes to us, of bringing forward a greater number of measures than could be brought to maturity within the Session. If this be blameable in a Government, does he not know that if in the month of May we were to pledge ourselves to the variety of questions on which he has argued, he would then have us in his power, and that we could not complete any one of those measures; and does he not know that by adopting the course we have taken of selecting two great measures, and proposing them for the consideration of Parliament, we have pursued the safest, the justest, and the most satisfactory course. The right hon. Baronet himself can hardly, I think, deny this proposition, because those who introduced the subject on his behalf distinctly stated the principle that no one question could be more pressing than the settlement of the Question of the Irish Church. It was the first Question which the Government of the right hon. Baronet introduced; it is the Question which we are now pledged to bring forward; and I am somewhat surprised that in the great and new-born zeal which now manifests itself in favour of the Dissenters, we should be called upon by the right hon. Baronet and his Friends, in their defence, to postpone all other claims to theirs. Sir, why were not the Dissenters, grievances settled long since? Why did not the right hon. Baronet, and those concerned with him in the Government of this country, settle them once and for ever? How long were they responsible? If they object to us that we have postponed for the present Session the bringing these different matters to issue, how will they answer to the Dissenters for their having postponed during so many years the settlement of this question, the adjustment of their claims, and the removal of their grievances? Sir, do the right hon. Baronet, and those who act with him, think that by taking this course they will persuade the Dissenters of England that we have not been earnest in our sincere wish to carry into effect, and work out to the utmost, the principles of that relief which we—not for the first time in the year 1835, but during the whole period of the organization of the Whig party—have felt that the Dissenters of England were entitled to? Do they think that the Dissenters of England will be misled or dazzled by this new-born zeal? If it 74 be calculated to produce any impression on their minds for one moment, I only wish the Dissenters to look back to those debates of which we hear so much—I mean the records of our Parliamentary decisions. I say let them do this, and then ask where this zeal in their behalf was slumbering at the time that the Repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts was proposed? That point upon which we are now all agreed—that point upon which there is now such perfect unanimity of opinion—was then opposed by the very individuals who now come forward and tell us, in their zeal for the Dissenters, that we are paltering with their interests when we postpone the consideration of their claims for one moment longer. Sir, there should be no postponement of the subject if we believed that during the interval that remains of the present session we could do more than accomplish the two great objects that are before us. It is not because we shrink from the Question, it is not because we are indifferent to the rights of the Dissenters, that we postpone the consideration of their claims—it is because we are resolved to select, with due respect for the right hon. Baronet, our own ground of battle. We will not accord to him the advantage of driving us from our lines, if we feel it more in furtherance of our principle, and more conducive to the public interest, that we should tight on our own ground. Sir, we take our stand upon these two great measures. The right hon. Baronet knows, I believe, as well as I do, that we could not accomplish more. Perhaps he thinks we might substitute the measure upon which he has laid so much stress for one of the measures we have announced—Corporation Reform, Sir—the Question of Corporation Reform—there is our point of contest with the right hon. Baronet—there shall be our field of battle—and there we will meet him upon an issue which will be intelligible to the people. Does not that Question press, or does the right hon. Baronet think it might be advantageously postponed? It does press, Sir, upon certain parties in this country—it presses hard upon them at the present moment in the shape of inflictions, from which, I trust, our measure will relieve them; the alarm presses hard upon others, who would gladly—most gladly—postpone the discussion, and who, for the purpose of advantageously acquiring the means of postpone- 75 ment, urge the Dissenters to the settlement of their claims, and abjure Municipal Reforms. The right hon. Baronet and those around him are so perfectly friendly to the claims of the Dissenters, that really whether it comes a little sooner or a little later, the Dissenters need not be alarmed, because on that subject all parties are quite agreed. I hear, however, that on the Question of our Municipal Corporations we cannot look for quite so much coincidence of opinion. The right hon. Baronet has stated, I believe upon some authority, that in anticipation of the measure of Municipal Reform, certain corporations in the land are already taking measures to distribute and divide among themselves that which constitutes the common good of the corporations in question, and to divide their lands, in order to prevent this remedial measure, when it does come into operation, from having any practical effect—I say, then, to the Dissenters—and I believe they will take the advice of Gentlemen on this side of the House quite as soon as they will accept that of Gentlemen connected with the late Government—that it becomes more important for them, that it is the more important for the maintenance of their interests, that the Question of Municipal Reform should be, in the first instance, and without delay, settled. I believe it is a point upon which the feelings of the people of England are most deeply set; and that if you were to poll the people of this country, man by man, they would say that the reform of the Municipal Corporations was second only—if indeed it be second to anything—to the other great measure of Reform which has been introduced and passed into a law. Well, then, Sir, it is upon these grounds; it is with a view to the practical execution of two important measures, rather than to an ineffectual attempt at the settlement of any other—it is with that view that the two measures to which we wish to direct the special attention of Parliament, are the settlement of the Irish Church, including the Question of the Appropriation of its Revenues, and the settlement of the Municipal Corporations. Sir, the right hon. Baronet may, and very possibly will, taunt us with having taken this resolution—a course which may be adopted by others, though, not with his ability or his power. We appeal to the people of England; we tell them that in the month of May we 76 cannot hope to accomplish more than those two great measures. We ask you, do you wish to see the Irish Church Question settled? We ask you, do you wish to see the Municipal Institutions of the country modified? If you do, we think that by the support of Parliament we may be enabled to accomplish these two measures: if we try to effect more in the time which is before us, we fear we shall fail not only in those two, but in the other subjects to which our attention is directed—not by the old friends of Reform—not by the Dissenters themselves, but by Gentlemen who know full well that a Government restored to Office in the month of April, and commencing their proceedings at the end of May, is not to be stigmatized because it does not happen to be in the same situation as it would have been if no change had taken place in the month of November. It may be a fair Parliamentary taunt, but it is no moral reproach that the right hon. Baronet has thrown out, if one seeks to affirm the proposition that we stand in the middle of a session in the same position as if no change had taken place. We shall take our position as I have already stated; we shall bring forward the two great measures to which I have referred. It will be for the country to decide whether we have done wisely in directing their attention to those great and important objects, or whether we should have acted more wisely and more beneficially in adopting the course recommended by those who are opposed to us.
§ Mr. Wilks
considered the two measures which Government had announced their intention of bringing forward most pressing and important; the one would give peace to Ireland; the other was a measure of reform without which the Reform Bill itself would be paralyzed. He could have wished that the Dissenters' claims had not been postponed, he still thought Ministers might take those claims into consideration during the present Session, and hoped that they would re-consider their determination on the subject. If, however, they should upon reflection remain of opinion that it was wise to postpone that question, he had no doubt that the Dissenters would wait patiently. For his own part, deeply impressed with the importance of the measures to be brought forward by the Ministers, he should be ready to give them his most cordial support.
§ Mr. Arthur Trevor
begged leave to doubt whether the hon. Member who spoke last expressed the sentiments of the Dissenters. At all events he believed that the Dissenting portion of his constituents would be any thing but satisfied with the conduct of Ministers. The people of England would contrast the course which Ministers were about to pursue with that which the right hon. Baronet was pursuing with so much advantage to the country and his own character, when he was compelled to relinquish office upon pretences which he need not refer to.
§ Dr. Bowring
said, that the Dissenters knew who were their real friends; and expressed his conviction that they would not press their claims, when their so doing might retard the progress of the important measures that had been adverted to.
§ Mr. Potter
also bore testimony to the willingness of the Dissenters to postpone urging their claims until they could be more advantageously conceded.
§ Mr. Ewart
was convinced of the necessity of Municipal Reform, and thought nothing was more pressing. Since the passing of the Test and Corporation Acts not one Dissenter had been admitted into the Corporation of Liverpool. The measure announced by Government would at once unlock the barred-up Corporations, and liberate them from the thraldom in which they had been so long held.
§ Mr. Mark Philips
was desirous to see the Church of England and the Dissenters united in the bond of peace and concord. He feared, however, that the adoption of such proceedings as had given rise to the present discussion would only foment and perpetuate differences which they all deplored. He hoped that hon. Gentlemen opposite, who expressed so much anxiety for the settlement of this Question, would, when it again came forward, meet it in that fair and candid spirit which was so well calculated to promote the end they all professed to desire.
§ Mr. Pease
said, that the Dissenters would confide in their old friends, and wait until they obtained a well-digested measure of relief from them. The Society of Friends did feel it to be a hardship that they were called on to contribute towards the repair of the edifices appertaining to the Established Church, believing, as they did, that the Church was itself in possession of ample funds for that purpose.
§ The Attorney-General
thought that a 78 very unjust attack had been made upon the law and the legal tribunals of the country. In his opinion the Churchwardens referred to in the petition had grossly misconducted themselves, and their proceedings had been illegal as well as oppressive. The law applicable to the case noticed in the petition was very vexatious as it stood previous to the passing of the Act of 53rd George 3rd. Before that time the only remedy for the recovery of Church-rates was by a proceeding in the Ecclesiastical Court, which could only be enforced by excommunication. The 53rd of George 3rd, however, em-powered parties to proceed for the recovery of sums due for Church-rates, the amount of which was under 10l. by distress, while the jurisdiction of the Ecclesiastical Court was preserved with respect to sums above that amount. It was, therefore, the meaning of the Legislature, and that meaning was clearly expressed in the statute, that for sums under 10l. the jurisdiction of the Ecclesiastical Court, should be entirely taken away. In spite of this, these Churchwardens betook themselves to the Ecclesiastical Court, and, not content with that, took out a writ de contumace capiendo (excommunication being now very properly abolished for such a purpose). All these were voluntary and premeditated acts on the part of the Churchwardens, in consequence of which Child had been deprived of his liberty, Hon. Members declaimed about the hardship of seizing the goods of that individual, but, in his opinion, the casting him into gaol was a much greater hardship. For that illegal act the Churchwardens had rendered themselves liable to an action.
§ Mr. Law
said, that after the discussion which had taken place, it was not his intention to trouble the House with many observations, though he had originally intended to call their attention to some of the real facts of the case, which had been communicated to him. However, the observations made by the hon. and learned Attorney-General induced him to state one important fact, which entirely negatived the imputation cast on the Churchwardens, that they had from first to last been actuated by a desire to oppress Child. From the communication made to him, of the truth of which he had no doubt, it appeared that the Churchwardens informed Child, even when the costs of the suit had been incurred, but before any 79 step was taken to arrest him and put him in prison, that they would still accept the sum of 17s. 6d. and would bear all the costs themselves. This circumstance was sufficient to rebut the conclusion, not very charitably drawn by the hon. and learned Attorney-General, that these Churchwardens had been actuated by any other but proper motives. He concurred entirely in all that the hon. and learned gentleman had said with respect to the law of the case. He was free to admit that the proper course to pursue was to have summoned Child before two magistrates, but the Churchwardens believing that they had to choose between two remedies were influenced in their decision by a desire to avoid all appearance of partiality; and they therefore refrained from bringing the matter before the two magistrates of their district, because one of them happened to be a minister of the Established Church. They had also the experience of the past to deter them from that course, for, in the previous year, after property which had been seized was restored to the owner, it was paraded about the place in a manner calculated to excite the people to acts of misdemeanour. He denied that the object of the Churchwardens was oppressive. They had, perhaps, exposed themselves to an action at law, but that very circumstance afforded a strong reason why that House should not prejudice a question which might be submitted to the ordinary tribunals of the land.
§ Mr. Cobbett
observed, that it was the duty of the Judges of the Ecclesiastical Court to have been cognizant of the statute to which the hon. and learned Attorney-General had referred.
said he had never known an instance, since the passing of the 53rd George 3rd, where parties had had recourse to the Ecclesiastical Court for the recovery of Church-rates, where the sum was under 10l., without having previously gone before two justices of the peace, and having had objections taken to the validity of the rate. This latter circumstance alone gave the Ecclesiastical Court the right of jurisdiction in such a case. How, then, could the hon. and learned Recorder, who knew the great and grievous expense of an Ecclesiastical proceeding, assert that these Churchwardens, by whom the terms of the statute as well as the universal practice had been disregarded, were actuated by 80 good motives? The hon. and learned Recorder founded his favourable opinion of the motives of the Churchwardens on the fact that after legal proceedings had commenced they offered to accept the payment of the Church-rate from Child, and pay the costs themselves. Now, if they had been acting honestly and fairly—if they had not been afraid of the consequences of their own proceedings—if they had not been aware that they were guilty of an act of oppression, would they have made that offer? Would they not rather have insisted on the payment of the whole amount to which they conceived themselves entitled? In his opinion, the Churchwardens were, in the first place, principally to blame. In the next place, the Judge of the Ecclesiastical Court was to blame, for, as the hon. Member for Old-ham had observed, it was his duty and business to have read the Act of Parliament, and he was responsible for having sent a man to gaol in consequence of his ignorance of the statute law of the land. But it was asked, how long were the Dissenters to labour under these grievances? He concurred in opinion with those who were anxious for their removal, and not one syllable should ever escape from his lips tending to depreciate the justice of the Dissenters' claims, or the urgent necessity of a fit and proper remedy for the grievances they suffered. Still he never would be a party to the holding out of false hopes to the Dissenters. He would not on the 25th of May deceive them by declaring, that in the course of the Session there would be found time and opportunity to pass some legislative measure, for the purpose of placing them in the situation in which they were entitled to stand. He represented in that House a large body of Dissenters, and he was confident that they would believe him when he declared, that if he were to find that the present Ministers, having when in opposition urged the propriety of conciliating the Dissenters and conceding their claims, were, now that they possessed power, to state that they could not carry their principles into complete effect and execution, he would be the first to expose to disgrace and reprobation those men, who had crept into power by the support, aid, and assistance of the Dissenters, and were then base enough to turn round and desert their friends and supporters. If he thought the Government were inclined to 81 act in that way, his (Dr. Lushington's) proper place would not be on that (the Ministerial) but on the other side of the House, and there was no species of opposition, however bitter—no sarcasm, however severe, which he should refrain from using against them. But though he held these sentiments, ought he to doubt the sincerity of the present Ministers, because they did not attempt to do that which it was impossible for them to do satisfactorily at the present period of the Session—because they did not throw on the Table of the House, ill-concocted and ill-digested measures, in nowise calculated to give satisfaction to the Dissenters, or to do justice to those who belonged to the Established Church? The other night he declared that there must be delay. He now repeated the declaration. If the Members of that House meant to legislate like senators and men of wisdom, they must take the whole of this great and important subject, with all its bearings, into their most deliberate and comprehensive consideration. It behoved those who were desirous of altering a system which had now subsisted for ages, to cast their eyes on every side, and to be quite certain, when they made a reform, that that reform would be satisfactory to all the parties whose interests were at stake. To throw on the Table, a Bill which had no chance of being read a third time, might be a means of obtaining an ephemeral sort of popularity among the Dissenters, but that was not the way to do either them or the country substantial justice. He had last session told Lord Althorp that he was attempting to do more than he had time to carry into effect; he told the noble Lord that he would not be able to carry his English Tithe Bill, together with his other measures, and the prediction proved correct. He now declared, that that House could not, during the present Session, discuss, with becoming deliberation, the various measures relative to Dissenters' marriages, Church-rates, and Registration which were all intimately connected together. Nevertheless they could pass a resolution, binding themselves early in the ensuing Session to proceed to the consideration of all those great and important questions, with a view to grant the Dissenters a complete and ample redress of all their grievances. If they did that they might rest assured that the Dissenters would care little for the opinion of the 82 hon. Member for Durham; the Dissenters would trust to their old friends, for they were not so ignorant of the world, or so overconfident, as to place reliance in those who had always been their bitterest enemies. The Dissenters had too much forbearance—too much love and affection for their country—they were too sincere patriots, to urge the Government now to abandon those all - important measures which related to Ireland, and the Reform of the Corporations in this country. They would wait patiently until those measures were accomplished, provided they were assured that a comprehensive measure for their relief, to which they were justly entitled, would, without regard to obstacles, be placed on the Table of the House at the commencement of next Session.
§ Mr. Cressett Pelham
said, that as the matter contained in the petition before the House might possibly come before another court, he suggested whether it were fair to anticipate the merits of the case, by prolonging a discussion like that which had been going on? The object of the petition, he thought, was one of a vague character, without specifying any particular mode of redress. It was apparently designed to produce a general sort of discussion, and certainly the discussion had taken that turn. He agreed with the noble Secretary for the Home Department, that questions of such general importance should not be taken up hastily by the House, and would express his concern that any body of men, holding authority from the Crown, should show a disposition to sanction or adopt the line of proceeding that was taken up on the opposite side of the House.
§ Mr. Winthrop Praed
took it for granted that the Representatives of the Dissenters in that House, who expressed such satisfaction at the declaration of the noble Lord (Lord John Russell), were also ready to adopt the noble Lord's principle, that the nation at large ought to contribute to the repair of the fabric of the Established Church. With respect to the case mentioned in the petition, the hon. and learned Member had attempted to cast an imputation on the motives of the two Churchwardens. This he surely would not have done if he had heard the plain and simple statement of the hon. Member for Ipswich. The hon. and learned Member (Dr. Lushington) said that the offer made by the Churchwardens to pay the cost of the legal 83 proceedings they had adopted was a proof that they were conscious of having violated the law. Now, what were the facts of the case? At the time this offer was made, a citation only had been served, and no action for damages would then have laid. When their offer was refused, how did they act? Like men who knew that they had violated the law? On the contrary, they continued their proceedings and procured the arrest of Child. The hon. and learned Member, then, appeared to have cast imputation on the motives of the Churchwardens, in ignorance of the facts of the case, and he (Mr. Praed) therefore trusted that the hon. and learned Member would not, until he had learned to judge more impartially, bring over to that (the Opposition) side of the House, either the severity of his censure or the bitterness of his sarcasm.
ridiculed the idea of the Churchwardens having, on the plea of fairness and humanity, pat the unfortunate Mr. Child into prison rather than bring him before a magistrate, who happened to be a clergyman. By such an excuse they added hypocrisy to cruelty. Their whole conduct well deserved the epithets applied to it in the petition. They really appeared to have been actuated by the rancour of religious hostility.
§ Mr. Baines
said, that the hon. Member for Yarmouth had not correctly stated the views of the Dissenters, when he informed the House that they were disposed to acquiesce in an arrangement for raising a Church-rate by a general tax, instead of a specific rate. No such concession had been made; and he protested against the Dissenters being committed to that admission. They wished, indeed, the edifices of the Church to be upheld; but they thought that when the revenues of the Church came to be investigated, it would be found that the sinecures of the Church were sufficient to pay for the keeping in repair the churches, or if they should prove deficient, that there were other sinecures and pensions that might be resorted to for that purpose without imposing fresh burdens upon the people. As to the proposed delay, the Dissenters wished to have their grievances redressed as soon as was compatible with their satisfactory adjustment; but they were more anxious that the legislation upon them should be sound and permanently satisfactory, than that the measures haying that object should be 84 hurried through Parliament without due deliberation. He thought the country was much indebted to Mr. Child, for the firmness and decision that he had displayed in support of his principles at a critical juncture, while the petition before the House, had been of essential service, for it had elicited the information which had been given, as to the intentions of the Government, by the noble Lord, the Secretary of State for the Home Department.
§ Mr. Hardy
was not acquainted with either of the two Gentlemen who had adopted the proceedings against Mr. Child, but he thought that a most unfair attack had been made on them. They had given notice of all the proceedings in his case, and had manifested every anxiety to settle the matter amicably. There appeared to him to be nothing either of injustice or oppression in their conduct.
§ Mr. Charles Buller
never recollected any case of injustice or oppression brought before the House, in which some Gentleman did not come forward and assert that the persons against whom that complaint was brought were most humane characters, and were actuated by the purest motives. The Churchwardens, now complained of, had adopted a most extraordinary mode of showing their humanity towards Mr. Child. From the individual question respecting Mr. Child, the attention of the House had been called to the general Question of the injustice of continuing the present law respecting Church-rates. His attention, however, had also been directed to another great Question, namely—the constitution of the tribunal by which Mr. Child was subjected to these iniquitous proceedings It appeared that Mr. Child had been illegally brought before this Ecclesiastical Court, for the paltry sum of 17s. 6d.; and according to the learned civilian (Dr. Lushington) than whom there could not be a better authority on the subject, the expenses would amount to at least 16l. He asked how long his Majesty's Ministers intended to allow the present system in the Ecclesiastical Courts to be continued? The Government he trusted would at once give some information on this point. He was satisfied that if they did not bring forward some effectual measure of Reform with respect to these Courts, they would lose the confidence of the country. The late Government had promised Reform on this point which might probably hare been 85 effectual if the matter had been taken up in the way which he understood the right hon. Baronet then at the head of the Administration intended that it should be. He was the more anxious upon the point, as some of his constituents had been injured by the oppressive conduct of the Ecclesiastical Court—indeed the oppression on this point was very great in the West of England. He had intimated at the early period of the Session that it was his intention to move for leave to bring in a Bill to take away from the Ecclesiastical Courts all jurisdiction in Tithes or Church-rates, but he did not persist in his intention, as he had been told that that would form part of the measures to be brought forward by the late Government. That Administration lasted six weeks after this intimation, and yet they manifested no signs of bringing forward such a Bill. He wished to know whether his Majesty's Ministers intended to introduce some measure, for if they did not he should certainly proceed with his Bill?
§ Lord John Russell
was understood to to say, that the Government wished to do what the hon. Member had adverted to, but he could not then give a more specific promise.