§ Mr. Bernal
brought up the report of the Committee on the Church-rates regulation. On the motion that the resolutions be read a second time,
Mr. A. Johnstone
was sorry he could not support the resolutions of his Majesty's Government, and that the task devolved on him of moving an amendment; he regretted it because he was a supporter of the general principles of that party to which the noble Lord belonged. The proposed fund was to be raised from an improved system of revenue. He agreed with the right hon. Gentleman as to the creation of the fund, though he might differ from him in some important points of the proposed plan, for he would have the fund created without inflicting injury on any one; but he was compelled to differ from his Majesty's Ministers with regard to the mode of application. He did not anticipate that the fund would equal, by a considerable amount, the sum calculated by his right hon. Friend: but whatever the amount, instead of having it employed for the abolition of Church-rates, he would appropriate it in the way suggested in his amendment. He called on the noble Lord and on the Government, to support his amendment, if they were as friendly as they declared themselves to the principle of an Established Church. The noble Lord had in two speeches last Session professed himself a supporter of that principle, and had admitted that the church was in some respects inadequately provided for. The House had been called upon to support the Government measure because the Dissenters had declared themselves unwilling any longer to pay Church-rates. No man was more willing than he was to give due weight to the religious scruples of his dissenting fellow subjects, but he could not see how a Church Establishment was to 930 be supported if so great a concession were made. The Dissenters were estimated at three millions, out of which one million were Wesleyans, who were formerly attached to a Church Establishment, and, with few exceptions, had not taken any part against Church-rates. Would they make such a concession to two millions of the people when there were ten or twelve millions who were favourable to a Church Establishment? It had been said this measure, was a healing measure, and that it would give peace to the country. Concession did not always give peace; on the contrary, he believed such concession would lead to greater agitation. He would ask the hon. Members for Leeds and Boston whether they thought this a healing measure, and if it would make peace between the Dissenters and the church with regard to the great questions that were agitated? The Dissenters had told them they would not be satisfied till they obtained their favourite proposition, the separation of the Church from the State. It had been estimated that only one-tenth of the Church-rates was paid by the Dissenters; nine-tenths were paid by the landed proprietors. They paid 450,000l. a-year to the church, and were willing to continue it. Was it reasonable he would ask, to strip the church of such a revenue merely that the Dissenters might be saved the trifling charge of 50,000l.? He might view the question with prejudice, but it humbly appeared to him that if the power of making the rate were taken away from the vestries and the obligation to pay were imposed on the landlord instead of remaining with the tenant, the fund might be secured to the church. In Scotland two-thirds of the land-holders were episcopalian Dissenters and they paid the Church-rates without a murmur, because they considered they were under great obligations to the church. It appeared to him that the people of Scotland might be divided into three classes—those able and willing to pay for religious instruction, those unable to do so, and those who were well able, but were unwilling to do so. One of the great objects of a Church Establishment should be to provide for the spiritual wants of the people, and he would contend that until the wants of the destitute poor were provided for, however the State might increase its army and police, and however that House might legislate with respect to prison discipline, they could not expect permanent tranquillity or prosperity. They 931 must elevate the moral character of the people, or all their efforts would be vain. He found by a reference to the Returns on the table of the House that the population of London within a radius of eight English miles amounted at present to 2,000,000 of souls; for that number of individuals there had been provided, including all denominations, only 680 places of worship which afforded accommodation for but 500,000, The fearful tale to be told was, that, supposing every place full, not more than 64,000 persons would be able to enter a place of worship. From the first report of the ecclesiastical Commissioners it appeared that in seven contiguous parishes in the eastern part of London, where the population amounted to 240,000, there were only eleven churches, and the whole number they were capable of accommodating was only 16,000 persons. In the second report of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, to which he found the signatures of six of his Majesty's present Ministers attached, were the following passages:—'The most prominent, however, of those defects, which cripple the energies of the established church, and circumscribe its usefulness, is the want of churches, and ministers in the large towns and populous districts of the kingdom. The growth of the population has been so rapid as to outrun the means possessed by the establishment of meeting its spiritual wants; and the result has been, that a vast proportion of the people are left destitute of the opportunities of public worship and Christian instruction even when every allowance is made for the exertions of those religious bodies which are not in connexion with the Established Church.But a comparison between the amount of population and that of church-room will not furnish, by itself, an accurate view of the provision which is made for the spiritual wants of the people; because many of the chapels which contribute to swell the amount of church-room, have no particular districts assigned to them; and we consider the assignment of a district to each church or chapel to be necessary to the ends of pastoral instruction, and to carrying into full effect the parochial economy of the established Church. The evils which flow from this deficiency in the means of religious instruction and pastoral superintendence greatly outweigh all other inconveniences resulting from any defects or anomalies in our ecclesiastical institutions; and it unfortunately happens that while these evils are the most urgent of all, and most require the application of an effectual remedy, they are precisely those for which a remedy can be least easily found. The resources which the Established Church possesses, and which can properly be made available to that purpose, in whatever way 932 they may be husbanded or distributed, are evidently quite inadequate to the exigency of the case; and all that we can hope to do is gradually to diminish the intensity of the evil.The hon. Member concluded by moving "That it is the opinion of this House that funds may be derived from an improved mode of management of church lands, and that these funds should be applied to religious instruction within the Established Church, where the same may be found deficient in proportion to the existing population."
§ Mr. Baines
rose principally to ask the hon. Member who had moved the amendment, on what authority he rested the assertion that the Dissenters were determined upon effecting a separation between Church and State? He was sure that the hon. Member had not sufficient authority for such an assertion, and therefore, in attempting to prejudice the case of the Dissenters, and place them before the Parliament of the country in an unfavourable point of view, the hon. Member, unwittingly as he believed, but improperly as he contended, was making a charge against the Dissenters which had no foundation in fact. He did not mean to say, that there were not Dissenters who would take measures to effect that separation; but some months back he was present at a meeting of 700 deputies from different parts of the kingdom, representing the Dissenters in as efficient a manner as could be conceived, when this very proposition was brought forward by a Dissenter, and was met by a general disclaimer on the part of the meeting of any attempt to interfere with the connexion between Church and State. He declared, as far as was within his knowledge, that there was no such intention on the part of the Dissenters. That they were not friends to the Establishment, their being Dissenters was evidence, but knowing as they did, the combination of circumstances under which the Church and the State held together, he believed there was no wish on the part of the Dissenters of England to effect any separation between them. There was another inquiry arising out of the observations of the hon. Member for St. Andrew's which he should refer to. The hon. Member said—"Will this be the healing measure?" and applied to the hon. Member for Boston, and to himself, to know whether it would in their opinion prove so. Now, his answer was, that it would be a healing measure; and 933 in saying that it would be a healing measure, he said all that any person could say of a measure of this kind, for he did not mean to say that it would satisfy to the utmost extent the wishes or claims of the Dissenters. He must say, that the Dissenters would not be improperly placed if they were admitted to the Universities of this country, and although this measure would do much, it was not to be expected that it would do everything. With regard to this measure, he had no doubt that if it were carried into effect, it would not only abolish Church-rates, but increase church accommodation, and extend the means of the poorer clergy. When, however, the hon. Member for St. Andrew's asserted that there were 11,000,000 of churchmen, and only accommodation for a small portion of them, he would ask, were there 11,000,000 of churchmen inclined to go to church? Was there half 11,000,000? Was there a quarter of that number? No, there was not; and in proof of his assertion he would ask, were there petitions from persons complaining of a want of church accommodation? It was but fair to infer that when they were praying to pay Church-rates, if there was any want of church accommodation they would mention it. The hon. Member had stated, that there were 11,000,000 of churchmen and but 3,000,000 of Dissenters. He wanted to know what the hon. Member called those persons who neither went, nor wished to go, to the meeting-house or the church. If they were churchmen, they were very indifferent churchmen, and he must say that he thought the hon. Member had taken top wide a range when he comprehended all who were not Dissenters within the pale of the church. The hon. Member said, that the Wesleyans were favourable to the continuance of Church rates. He denied that proposition. He did not believe that there was one petition proceeding from the Wesleyan Methodists in favour of Church-rates, and many had been presented praying for their abolition, and the hon. Member for Weymouth had that evening presented eleven petitioners from eleven Methodist congregations, all praying that Church rates might be abolished. And yet the hon. Member claimed the whole Wesleyan body to be placed in array against the Ministerial measure. The Wesleyans generally acted upon the intimation of the Conference, and the conference had not given that intimation, and therefore they were silent, but he 934 knew of his own knowledge that the petitioners against Church-rates had been signed by a very large number of members of the Methodist body. By the way, he was glad to hear the Methodists spoken of with so much respect. H could recollect the time when the name of Methodist was a term of reproach and contumely, but he was happy to find that the tone of hon. Members in speaking of them in that House was changed. He was sorry to have detained the House so long: but he thought that the assertions of the hon. Member for St. Andrew's were so little borne out by facts, and some facts which came within his own knowledge militated so strongly against those assertions, that he should have been doing injustice to, that good cause of civil and religious liberty, which he hoped to see that night triumphant, had he not replied to a statement which had little or rather no foundation whatever to rest on.
Mr. A. Johnstone
in explanation, wished to say that, in the observations which he had made respecting the Methodists, he had not spoken on mere report. A gentleman had said to him, "I have heard, that from Gravesend and from some other places petitions have been sent up by the Wesleyans praying for the abolition of Church-rates; but I have authority to state, that those petitions had not the sanction of those meetings which are considered to represent the societies of Wesleyan Methodists in those places."
§ Mr. Hardy
expressed his entire concurrence in what his hon. Friend (Mr. A. Johnstone) had said on the wish of the Dissenters, to separate the church from the state. He had, on a former occasion, asked the hon. Member for Leeds what was meant by the union formed among the Dissenters unless it were the separation of Church and State. At the time he received no reply; but his question was subsequently answered by a newspaper (the Leeds Mercury, of which Mr. Baines is the proprietor) over which he believed the hon. Member for Leeds possessed some influence. In that paper it was stated that the union of the Dissenters consisted in their wishing to have certain emoluments taken away from the established religion, and to effect that sort of separation between Church and State which would prevent any one sect from obtaining grants of public money more than another. It was clear from this, then, that the object of the Dissenters was to divide the property which now belonged to the established Church, with a view to its 935 general distribution among all other sects; and yet, notwithstanding this statement, the hon. Member for Leeds told them that it was not the object of the Dissenters to procure a separation between Church and State. But the hon. Member for Leeds said that there was no wish on the part of the Dissenters to make any such attempt. This he could readily believe, because the country had expressed so strong an opinion on the subject that the Dissenters must well know that any such attempt would be fruitless. He held in his hand a paper which he thought would be conclusive against the statement of the hon. Member for Leeds, but he would read it to the House, and leave them to say whether the object which at all events the political Dissenters had in view was not the separation of Church and State. It was well known that in this town there was a united committee sitting, in which the great body of the Dissenters were represented. He held in his hand the report of the resolutions passed on a recent occasion:—At a meeting for conference between the united committee appointed to obtain the redress of the grievances of Dissenters, and deputies from various parts of the country, summoned specially for the purpose, held at the City of London Tavern, on Thursday, May 8th, 1834, Edward Baines, Esq. M.P. in the chair.Moved by the Rev. John Angell James, of Birmingham; seconded by Colonel Addison, of Chilton Hall, near Sudbury; supported by Thomas Harbottle, Esq. of Manchester, and the Rev. Joseph Gilbert, of Nottingham; andResolved—That this Meeting recognises the great and leading principle of full and complete separation of Church and State, as the true basis on which equal rights and justice can be secured to all classes of his Majesty's subjects.Now, if any hon. Gentleman would have taken the trouble to look at the petitions coming from Dissenters which had, from time to time, been laid before them, they would there have found the separation of Church and State insisted on as his hon. Friend had stated, but he was willing to admit that of late these parties had found it expedient to adopt another and a better line of policy. He was aware that petitions had recently been sent ready cut and dry into the country for signature for another purpose, and from the colour, complexion, and size of these petitions he was strongly inclined to think that several of them had been presented to the House that 936 day. He asked whether, during the present session, a petition had not been presented to that House from the Dissenters of Leeds, in which it was said—As the objection to Church-rates is founded mainly on their unjust principle no measure will be in the least satisfactory which does not entirely, in substance as well as in form, remove the burthen from the Dissenters.Before the meeting from which this petition proceeded a paragraph appeared in the number of the newspaper to which he had already adverted of the 25th of March, in which the meeting was announced and Church-rates denounced. [The hon. Member read the paragraph and then proceeded.] That meeting at Leeds was, he maintained, congregated together under false impressions, because the people were led to suppose that they were called on to achieve a great political victory, and not merely for the purpose of getting rid of the payment of a paltry 3d. or 8d. Another petition to the same effect, signed by 19,000 persons, had been presented to that House from the place which he had the honour to represent, by his hon. Colleague. Now he found no fault with that petition, nor could he wonder at its being so numerously signed when it was publicly announced that several hundred distress warrants had been issued for Church-rates. He held in his hand one of the handbills which had been distributed on the occasion attacking the Church-rates. [The hon. Member read the placard.] That was the appeal which had been made to the people of the borough which he had the honour to represent and its neighbourhood, and all he could say was, that if such an appeal had not enlisted their feelings and roused their spirit of patriotism, he should have been very much surprised. Indeed, his only astonishment was, that a petition for doing away with such grievances as were described in this handbill had not been signed, not by 19,000 only, but by ten times that number. Let them look to what took place in Scotland. In that country the Dissenters had numerously signed petitions for the abolition of Church-rates, because they were told that these Church-rates were imposed as a tax upon conscience. These Church-rates were not represented as a rate that had existed from the most ancient times, from a period beyond legal memory, but they were taught to look upon them as a tax imposed on the Dissenters for the profession of their faith. The Dissenters 937 said, that their main cause for opposing this tax was its injustice. They had designated the system of Church-rates as a system of robbery and spoliation. Now, with respect to the plea of conscience which was put forward, he did not know how they could resist the payment and continuance of Church-rates on this ground. He could well conceive how a demand, though consistent with the law of the land, might be conscientiously resisted by an individual who considered it inconsistent with the law of God; but here was a demand sanctioned by the law of the land—consistent with the law of God—and established for the promotion of religious instruction and the advancement of morality, and he did not see on what plea of conscience any one was entitled to resist a system established for that purpose, when that system was consonant with the law of God. They admitted that these rates were established for the promotion of a doctrine, a great portion of which they themselves agreed to, and they solely objected to these rates on grounds that, to his mind, appeared totally untenable. With respect to the injustice of the payment of Church-rates, were they imposed on the Dissenters as Dissenters, as a tax for conscience' sake? No such thing. These rates existed before dissent was known. The Attorney-General had said, that the Church-rates were just and proper in former times, when all men in the country were of the same religion, but that that was not the case now, when many conscientiously differed from some of the doctrines of the Church of England. So long as it was considered desirable that they should have an Established Church, he did not consider how they could assent to the doctrine that those who dissented from that church should be relieved from all obligation to contribute to the support of that church, unless the great majority of the nation should decide upon some other means of giving religious instruction different from that which was practised within the walls of that church. The church was bound to attend to the religious instruction of all, and he did not see why then any portion of the country should be relieved from contributing to the support of the national Church. Those who resisted the payment of Church-rates put their opposition on the principle that they were obliged to contribute to the support of their own ministers. Now, he did not see the force of that position, for, upon the very same ground, might a man urge, 938 that he ought to be relieved from the payment of poor's-rates, because he contributed from his private means to the relief of a number of the poor. Every man was bound to contribute his proper share to those public funds which went to defray the public burthens of the country. It was no argument to say, that because a man contributed to the support of a church of his own, he should on that account be excused from contributing to the support of a church which was maintained and supported for the general good. Whatever system of general instruction they adopted, that system would be best applied and administered by the national Church. He would be ready to support the amendment of his hon. Friend, if he would shape his motion differently—if, instead of saying—"Whereas, it is the opinion of the House, that funds may be derived from an improved mode of managing Church lands"—his hon. Friend would shape his motion in this way: "If any funds can be derived from an improved mode of managing Church lands, such funds should be applied to religious instruction within the Established Church." He would have no hesitation to support a proposition, that if such funds could be raised, they should be applied to the purposes of religious instruction; but he did not admit that any such funds could be raised. He did not wonder that the Dissenters repudiated the church. They did not admit an establishment. How could they admit an establishment, when the very principle of their existence was to admit of no superior? They were congregational, and each congregation considered itself independent. But as the case of Lady Hewley's charity proved, the Dissenters whatever objection they might have to the payment of Church-rates, had no objection to endowments. Let the House look, for instance, at the Regium Donum, which, for upwards of a century had, with great advantage to them, been dispensed to the poor Dissenting clergy. Though some political Dissenters objected to that and to another grant, yet he believed that a large portion of the Dissenting clergy looked to this grant as of real advantage and benefit to them. On this subject he would call the attention of the House to the opinions of those who had an intimate acquaintance with the subject, and who were fully sensible of the great comfort and consolation which this fund conferred upon many of the poor Dissenting clergy:— 939They cannot bring themselves to fear that a grant which has been generously made, and faithfully administered, and which has proved itself, under the Divine blessing, an occasion of joy and gratitude to hundreds of Christian teachers, whose earthly lot has been one continued scene of privation and hardship, will, under any pretence, be withheld; but should this be the unhappy result of the interference of certain Dissenters, they must ever lament the injury thus done to a numerous class of indigent ministers of the Gospel—the blow being the more felt, because inflicted by the hand that should have been extended for protection; and will fervently pray that He whose Providence is over all, and is especially engaged towards them that devote their lives towards His glory, may open other sources for the relief of these His servants, not indeed more pure, but better guarded against the fluctuation and even caprice of public opinion.This was the opinion of those who had the administration of that fund, and it was an opinion very generally and extensively felt. It was admitted that there were an immense number of persons in the country without the means of religious instruction; but if the Legislature were to provide that instruction, how could it operate, except through the means of the national Church? He did not see how they could have an efficient system of religious instruction, unless they adopted means that would afford security that the objects which they contemplated would be carried into effect. Unless they established a proper control over any such system, they could have no security for its permanence and stability. Whatever that system of instruction was, it should be based upon the principles of the Christian religion as taught by the Church of England. Let them have the national temples of their religion in which the nation, as a nation, might worship God. Let them afford to their national Church the means of teaching and spreading wide amongst the people that religious knowledge which was of the deepest importance. The more churches that were required, the more did it show the extent of the ignorance that was to be overcome by the knowledge to be imparted. If his hon. Friend would alter his proposition in the way he had suggested, he would support him; but he did not admit that it would be possible to raise any funds in the way that was alleged. It was a most high and important duty to provide religious instruction for the people, and they never would have done their duty until that religious instruction was fully and am ply provided for all who stood in need of it.
wished to say a few words in reference to a petition which had been presented by him a year or two ago on the separation of the union between church and State. That it was passed at a meeting at which he had had the honour of presiding; but upon that occasion the Chairman and his friends were outvoted. In fact it was not the petition of Dissenters, but of Radicals.
§ Mr. Hume
said, that it ought not to be forgotten what the real business before them was. After two months' consideration of the plan of the Government respecting Church-rates, they had now met to decide whether they should carry that plan into effect or not. There were two evils admitted: one was the payment of Church-rates by individuals not in connexion with the Church of England; the other, the want of church-room and accommodation to those who were not provided with religious instruction. He did not think that the hon. Member (Mr. A. Johnstone) ought to have brought forward his proposition regarding the latter of these questions until the first had been disposed of. He would, therefore, intreat the hon. Member to withdraw his motion. It was quite clear, that hon. Members at the other side of the House would not support him; and he might expect very little support from Members at his own side of the House. The question of Church accommodation was not that which they had met to consider, and by persevering with his amendment, the hon. Member would only interfere with the main question before them. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners had certainly admitted the deficiency of Church accommodation, but it was doubtful, if that accommodation were provided, whether it Would be occupied by churchmen. The question they had to deal with at present, was not how they should apply the surplus, but by what means they could most effectually raise it. He would beg of the hon. Member to withdraw his motion, and let him fix a day when the House could come to a full decision upon it, and when hon. Members might have the opportunity of expressing their opinions fully and fairly respecting it. It had been said, that the Dissenters entertained a desire for the separation of the Church and State. He had attended many of their meetings, and he found that such an opinion was scouted by them; but he knew, that amongt them was entertained a strong and decided opinion for 941 the abolition of Church-rates, so far as concerned the Dissenters, and to that alone they turned their attention. They objected much less to the amount of Church-rates than to the principle on which they were exacted. They considered themselves entitled to liberty and equality, and that the payment of those rates was inconsistent with that liberty and freedom of conscience which they claimed. The hon. Member had said, that if every individual paid 3d., it would create a fund more than sufficient for all purposes. But it did not matter, whether the payment was 3d. or 6d., if the individual considered it a work of degradation to which he ought not to submit. He concluded, by again calling on the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his motion, and let the House go into the consideration of the plan proposed by his Majesty's Ministers.
§ Mr. Borthwick
differed widely from the hon. Member for Middlesex. The question they had to deal with was, not whether the revenues which the Chancellor of the Exchequer thought he could create could be created or not, but the question was whether, supposing those revenues created, they ought to be applied to given purposes or not? It had been stated, by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that within the limits of what he called the national Church, there existed certain property which ought to be applied to the relief of a certain portion of his Majesty's subjects, who prayed to be relieved from contributing to the support of the Established Church. Now, it had been argued by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. A. Johnstone) that whatever property existed within the national Church, that ought to be exclusively devoted to the purposes of religious instruction, for which purpose alone the national Church had been endowed, and ought to be supported. He had the honour of laying on the table several petitions from different parts of the country, and they had all concurred in one prayer, for the maintenance of Church-rates, and a strong expression of dissatisfaction at the conduct of his Majesty's Ministers. At the opening of the present Session, his Majesty, in his Speech from the Throne, had directed the attention of Parliament to measures for the consolidation of the Established Church. That desire had not been complied with, but the directly opposite course had been adopted by his Majesty's Ministers in the measure 942 which they had proposed for the abolition of Church-rates. What was the meaning of a national Church, if it was not to be supported and maintained by the country? The hon. Member for Leeds had said, that there were five or six millions of people in the country who did not wish to go to the Established Church; but was that a reason that they were to have no regard for religious instruction? The principle of a national Church was that, by the truths it taught and the morality which it propagated, it should assist in the establishment and promotion of law and order. In this country, an Established Church had existed long before the name of Dissent was known, and that Establishment was supported at the expense of the country. He knew, that the right hon. Gentleman, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, had told them that he was as much disposed to support the Established Church as any Member at his (Mr. Borthwick's) side of the House; and the right hon. Gentleman had assured them that the plan which he brought forward, was calculated to strengthen the Established Church. It would be unfair, not to take it for granted, that the right hon. Gentleman was sincere in what he stated; but he would defy the right hon. Gentleman, either by himself or any of his supporters, to show that the national Establishment would not be weakened by the adoption of the proposed measure. The measure was nothing more nor less than a declaration, that the country was not bound to support the Church in return for the instruction which it afforded, but that the Church was bound to afford, not only the means of instruction out of its own funds, but to pay its ministers and dignitaries out of its own revenues, and supply all the expenses necessary for its maintenance as a national Church. The ground on which the right hon. Gentleman consented to relieve the Dissenters from the payment of Church-rates, was, because they had conscientious objections to their payment, and that to force that payment was an interference with conscience. Now, he thought that argument would apply equally to relief from every species of taxation whatever. Would the right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer consent to exempt him from taxation, because a portion of the public revenues were applied to the support of the war in Spain, to which he was strongly opposed. Would he, on the same principle, relieve three-fourths of the country from taxation, 943 because they were opposed to that shameful, disgraceful, and mischievous warfare? Would he enforce the law, or would he exempt him and those who concurred with him from all further taxation for the support of that war? Would he, on the same principle, exempt the Quakers from taxation, because a portion of the national revenues went to the support of war, to which they were conscientiously opposed? But the right hon. Gentleman asserted a principle against the Church which he neither dared nor could introduce into any other part of his financial policy; and he did so, because he knew that the mouth of the Church was stopped, and that it could not speak out. The clergy were placed in a similar position; they could not effectually raise their voices against the proposed measure. He might say to the right hon. Gentlemen opposite, in the words of the immortal poet:—Oh, 'tis excellentTo have a giant's strength; but it is tyrannousTo use it like a giant.He might continue the quotation, and the right hon. Gentleman could judge if it did not apply to the case under consideration:—Could great men thunderAs Jove himself does, Jove would ne'er be quiet;For every pelting petty officerWould use his Heaven for thunder: nothing but thunder—Merciful Heaven!Thou rather, with thy sharp and sulphurous bolt,Split'st the unwed gable and gnarled oakThan the soft myrtle. Oh, but man, proud man!Drest in a little brief authority—Most ignorant of what he's most assured—His glassy essence—like an angry apePlays such fantastic tricks before high HeavenAs make the angels weep.He would not say, that the right hon. Gentleman should be termed one "drest in brief authority;" but he certainly looked as if he was more anxious to assail the myrtle than the gnarled oak. But, putting aside all metaphor, he must say, that the right hon. Gentleman, by this measure, was introducing a principle which could not be fully carried out. It might be applied to the plan for Church-rates, but it would fail when an attempt was made to carry it further. The right hon. Gentleman was sowing the seeds of destruction in the Constitution, which must eventually end in its destruction. The right hon. Gentleman was desirous to change the present 944 system of Church-rates, because Dissenters were unwilling to endure the burthen of paying them. But, in his opinion, all classes of persons, whether Dissenters or not, were bound to contribute to the support of the Established Church. Looking back at the example set by the founders of Christianity, a strong argument might be drawn from their conduct. Would any one presume to assert, that the worship of Venus or Jupiter, or of the other Heathen deities, was not disapproved of most strongly by the Apostles? And still they considered themselves bound to contribute to the revenues from which the Heathen culture derived its strength and vitality. When the divine Founder of the Christian religion was asked to pay the customary tribute to Cæsar—to that power which he came to destroy—did he adduce the plea of conscientious scruples to evade the payment, or did he conform to the regulations of the country in which he lived? He had recourse to his miraculous power, and ordered his disciples to draw from the deep some of its finny inhabitants to pay the tribute. How could hon. Gentlemen talk about conscientious scruples in the present instance, when they were not considered of importance by our Saviour himself in a similar case? It was not, perhaps, altogether seemly to introduce theological discussions in that House, but when the plea of conscientious scruples was advanced as a justification for the present measure, he thought it was not irrelevant to state a case which, in his opinion, was applicable to the measure under discussion. Conscientious scruples must go for nothing in arguing the question. The Church of England well deserved the support of every class of men, for she was the mother of freedom in western Europe, and had mainly contributed to the overthrow of sacerdotal usurpation. It was to her that Dissenters owed the rights they now enjoyed, and it was but just that they should contribute to her support. But, independently of this claim upon the Dissenters' gratitude, they were bound to contribute to the support of the Established Church on the broad principles of civil policy. All civil government was founded on this principle—that each person governed should give up so much of his personal rights and property as were necessary for the security and well-being of society in general. This principle appeared reasonable and just, and had always been strongly insisted on by political writers of every description. The 945 great Richard Hooper had expressly declared, "That all were to do homage to the rule," and that while "the least person in the State was to contribute, the greatest was not exempt." But see where this plea of conscientious scruples might lead, if pushed to extremity. What was to hinder any person from hereafter declaring that his conscientious scruples hindered him from conforming to the enactments of the civil law or the impositions of the criminal code? Might not the precedent of the Church-rate Bill be adduced as a fair excuse for non-compliance? If the plea called for relief in the present case, with what propriety or consistency could relief be refused in analogous cases hereafter? The Bill now before the House did not, in fact, strike so much at the Established Church as at every form of Government whatever, whether monarchical or oligarchical, or even republican. The measure involved, recognised the principle that a few might object against any part of the Constitution, and that their prayers might be attended to. The question, then, for the House to decide was, whether it would be right and justifiable to listen to the demands of the Dissenters or refuse them. He certainly should be better satisfied in opposing the measure brought forward by Government, if he was acquainted with the plan of the right hon. Member for Tarn worth. It would be better, he thought, if, in place of a negative being merely given to the Government plan, a substantive measure could be offered in its place. Since such a course had not been decided on, he would throw out a suggestion which might furnish matter for consideration. When Mr. Pitt brought forward his plan for redeeming the land-tax, he intended following it up by a scheme for the redemption of tithes. Might not the right hon. Gentleman act on that plan? Might he not employ the principle of redemption with regard to Church-rates? For what were they? They were an absolute estate existing independently alike of tenant and landlord. The landlord, when he purchased his property, did not include in his bargain the Church-rates, nor did the tenant, when he took the lease of his land, consider that the Church-rates were therein alluded to. Might not the Government, then, impose a tax, and give the landlords the power of redemption? The conscientious scruples of Dissenters would thus be relieved, for they professed themselves opposed to the 946 direct impost, but not to an indirect one. The amendment of the hon. Member for St. Andrew's obviated many difficulties arising from the Ministerial plan; and the hon. Gentleman deserved the gratitude of the country for the pains he had taken and the ability he had displayed in bringing it forward. The amendment got rid of the awkwardness arising from no counter-plan being proposed at that side of the House. The principle that the amendment laid down was, that all the Church revenues should be collected for specific purposes, and that the funds should be applied to the religious education of the people when it was found necessary. The right hon. Gentleman opposite, desired to have the funds raised from Bishops' leases. What justice was there, he would ask, in meddling with the property of the bishops? Justice was the word most frequently employed by hon. Gentlemen opposite,Te veniente die, te decedente canebant.But what justice was there in depriving the bishops of their legal revenues? Here were peers, not hereditary, but arriving at their high merit and attainments to be stripped of their property, simply because the Dissenters were averse to the present system. He could not reconcile such conduct with the cry of justice so often sent forth by hon. Gentlemen on the other side. The abolition of Church-rates would, in his opinion, not prove a relief to any party. It would besides introduce into the financial policy of the country a principle which was radically wrong, and which might hereafter powerfully affect other branches of the constitution, and it would, lastly, inflict a deep wound on the principle that every member of the State ought to give up part of their substance to support those institutions which tended to the good of all. A heavy blow, if report spoke true, was intended to be given by hon. Gentlemen opposite to the Church of Ireland. The appropriation clause had been introduced. That measure had been strongly opposed, and partly abandoned; yet what was the present measure but an English appropriation clause? The right hon. Gentleman might say, that the funds to be obtained from bishops' leases were to be applied to the erection of churches. That application of the money was undoubtedly a strictly ecclesiastical purpose—but it would prove nothing but a boon to the landlords. The plan was radically bad, inconvenient, contrary to sound po- 947 licy, and exceedingly ill-timed. Ill-timed, he would repeat, because the Government did not at present possess the confidence of the people, but was suspected of entertaining the intention to destroy the Church which they loved, whose ordinances they delighted in, and whose doctrines they revered. He was therefore opposed to the measure and its principles, and he had sufficient confidence in the good feeling of the House to hope that it might never become law.
§ Mr. Lambton
thought, that hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the question had used exaggerated phrases in speaking of the Bill. He should not, he trusted, fall into the same error. In his opinion, if the ablest divines in Durham were examined before a Committee of the House on the question they would declare that the truth would be found between the statements of both parties. The lessees were strong in their rights, founded on the enactments of Elizabeth, and the statutes of 1649; and though they said that they had no legal right to renewal, still time and custom had sanctioned their claims. The tendency of the measure would be found dangerous in those cases where the lessees were concerned, for their property had always been, and was at present, the object of transfer, of mortgage, and of family settlement. He would not deny that a depreciation in Church property had taken place, and that evils arose from the management of business being left to the bishops' agents. These circumstances, however, bore but indirectly on the question. When the measure was last debated, it was asserted, and the statement was received with cheers, that the Dean and Chapter of Durham had disfranchised their property in the same manner as was proposed to be done at present. Now, the facts were decidedly the contrary. The Dean and Chapter did make the attempt, but they failed. They were obliged to be content with only one-fifth of what they aimed at, situated on the banks of the river. In the county of Durham it was well known that there was a description of property called Church leasehold house property, which, as he could prove by documentary evidence, would not sell for more than ten years' purchase. The schedule, therefore, of the Chancellor of the Exchequer as regarded this description of property had been founded on erroneous data, There was also property called 948 Church leasehold property which had leasehold mines on it, and the rights reserved by the lessors, such as ingress and egress, and other conditions attached to the tenure, rendered this property of much less value in respect to the number of years' purchase. These reserved rights incident to this tenure made at least a difference of four years' purchase. In freehold land the difference was not so great, because the reservations were limited; but the Chancellor of the Exchequer had committed an error in estimating freehold land generally at thirty years' purchase, for in Durham and Northumberland it was only worth twenty-eight. It was not for him to dictate to the Chancellor of the Exchequer what alterations he should make in his measure, but he would suggest that this valuation should be reduced from twenty-five to twenty-two years' purchase. He was also of opinion that a Commission should be issued, with discretionary powers, in order that all kinds of Church property should be valued. He knew he might be met by an objection that the adoption of such a course would diminish the fund from which the substitute for Church-rates was to be provided, and that there would not be sufficient to meet the demand. To this he answered that they had not a right to a single sixpence more than justice and equity would sanction, and if the fund to be raised would inflict injustice it ought to be diminished, at least to the extent of the injustice it was calculated to inflict. He therefore called upon the House to do justice to the lessees. With nothing less than justice would he, as the representative of the county of Durham, be satisfied, and he firmly believed the Dissenters themselves would not accept a boon at the expense of the lessees. He must say, however, that he thought the Dissenters came before Parliament with very strong claims to its generous and cordial support. They asked the Legislature to do away with an impost against the very principle of which, more than the amount, they felt a strong and conscientious objection. They had rested their claims upon arguments—they had proved their case in a way which had as yet remained unanswered by those who opposed the concession they required. Let the House look around at the state of the country, and at the services which the Dissenters had done for her moral condition, In the county of Durham, for in- 949 stance, there were 110 places of worship belonging; to the church establishment, whilst on the other hand there were no less than 246 dissenting places of worship, besides 200 preaching rooms; and the number of persons, also, who attended the dissenting places of worship greatly exceeded those who attended the Established Churches. Now, this being the case, with what justice could the members of the Church of England call upon the Dissenters of the county of Durham to pay for the repairs of the edifices of the Church, in addition to the expenses of their own 300 or 400 places of worship? The measure which proposed to wipe away this cause of strife and annoyance he must always consider one founded on the most statesmanlike views and the soundest principles of religion—of religion, because it offered a great practical homage to that precept of Divine utterance, "Love one another." With respect to the amendment of the hon. Member near him, if he refused his assent to that proposition, it was because he felt confident that the subject of education must soon be brought before the House in a distinct and substantive form befitting its importance. He hoped that Government would very soon be prepared to bring forward a comprehensive measure upon this subject, in full accordance with the spirit of the age, and founded on a truly Christian basis of religious toleration. Such a measure, when it was proposed, he had no doubt would meet with the support of the majority of the people at large, and of that House.
§ Mr. Horace Twiss
wished to bring the House back to the main question which formed the subject of discussion, namely, the situation in which the Church of England was placed by the measure of Ministers, and the false position in which the Ministers themselves stood in reference to that question; and whether he considered the nature of the measure itself, or the alliance through which it was sought to be carried into effect, he could not but regard it as fraught with danger to the interests of their national Church. The plan of Lord Althorp, notwithstanding its defects, contained at least one useful and salutary ingredient, which had for its object the prevention of those contentions which took place at vestry meetings. But even this would not content any but the moderate portion of the Dissenters. It would not answer the purpose of the agitators, who 950 sought nothing less than the dissolution of all connexion between Church and State. There was hardly one of the petitions presented to that House in which this doctrine was not openly and plainly asserted, and one petition presented by the noble Lord himself avowed the hostility of the petitioners to all civil establishments for the purposes of religion, and expressed their determination to use every means within the law to effect the overthrow of an institution of which their consciences could not approve. When Lord Althorp brought forward his motion, in 1834, the noble Lord opposite resisted an amendment of the hon. Member for Middlesex, and stated upon that occasion that the object of the hon. Gentleman, and the few who acted with him, was to destroy, and not reform—and he would now ask were those objects changed? What reason, he should like to know, had the noble Lord for supposing that those whom he then stated had in view the destruction of the Church were not now as ready to execute the same purpose? His hon. and learned Friend (the Attorney-General) had published a pamphlet, in which he staked his professional reputation that there was no legal remedy to compel a parish to make a rate. Fortunately for his hon. and learned Friend he had a great deal of professional reputation to spare, for had a poorer man staked his reputation on such an opinion he would have long since become bankrupt. His hon. and learned Friend had employed less than his usual care and wonted research, or he never could have hazarded such an opinion. His learned Friend had quoted the case of "The King v. Bedford," in which a mandamus "to compel the parish to make a a rate had been refused by the Court of King's Bench, but he only quoted as much of the judgment as suited his own purpose. He kept back the reason assigned by the Court for not granting the application, namely "That they could not interfere by mandamus, this being a subject of purely ecclesiastical jurisdiction." Now, so far from this showing that there was no remedy, a remedy in the Ecclesiastical Courts was strongly and plainly implied by it. His hon. Friend, the Member for Cardiff, during the former debate had cited a case which at the time staggered both the noble Lord and his hon. and learned Friend, the Attorney-General, and which 951 clearly proved, that the Ecclesiastical Courts had jurisdiction to compel a rate when the inhabitants have refused to make it. The case of "The King v. Thetford," referred to by his hon. Friend, had not, he (Mr. H. Twiss) contended, been disproved. His hon. and learned Friend had endeavoured to find a refuge from it by saying, that the decision in that case 'was made on two grounds. First, that the rate was retrospective; secondly, that there was but one churchwarden in the parish. With regard to the first, the law of his hon. and learned Friend was good, if the fact was as he had stated. But the rate could not have been retrospective, because the cause of suit occurred between Easter, 1793, and Easter, 1794. Easter Day was on the 20th of April, 1794, and the suit was commenced on the 17th. So much for the first point. Now, with respect to the second, namely, that there was but one churchwarden in the parish, he (Mr. Twiss) contended that there was no ground of individuality, for there were many parishes in England in which it had been the invariable practice to elect but one churchwarden, and the validity of their acts had not been impugned. Upon this subject he had written to a friend of his, a clergyman residing in a parish circumstanced as he had described, and he had received an answer, which contained the clearest information on the point. The hon. Member read a letter from Easton Maundit, which stated, that in that parish it had been for many years the custom to elect only one churchwarden. He trusted he had satisfactorily answered the two objections taken by the Attorney-General to the case quoted by his hon. Friend, the Member for Cardiff. He could, however, adduce abundance of authorities to show that the Ecclesiastical Courts had the power to compel parishes to make a rate. Watson says, "As to the repairing of the body of the church, the Spiritual Court may compel the parishioners to do it, and may excommunicate every one of them till it be repaired." In a case decided by Lord Tenterden, it was objected that the whole of the parishioners had not been served with the writ, but the Court held that this should not operate as a bar, but that the writ should be taken to be served on all, Lord Tenterden observing, that the writ must be directed to the inhabitants, and those inhabitants on whom it is 952 served may be punished for disobedience. If the Court thinks the writ ought to issue they will find some means of enforcing obedience to it. In addition to this, Gibson says, "As to the making of a church-rate, this must be done by the churchwardens or parishioners, and the Ecclesiastical Court may inflict spiritual censure till they do, and if this did not suffice the right of the common law remained." Lord Chief Justice Holt says, that the proper course for the Spiritual Court is to give sufficient notice to the parish to meet and make a rate for the reparation of the church, which if they do not do they may be excommunicated. By the great statute of Westminster it was provided, "that when a case shall occur for which no writ can be found, the officers of the Court shall agree in framing a new writ;" "which enactment," says Lord Castle, "is a most excellent and necessary rule." In more modern times, Lord Holt, in the case of Ashley v. White, asserted in the broadest manner this great remedial principle of the law in these words, "If a statute gives a right the common law will give a remedy to maintain that right a fortiori—where the common law gives a right it gives a remedy to assert it."—I Salk. 21. But in the instance produced by Dr. Nicholl, in the case of Gaudem v. Selby, where the parishioners having refused to make a rate for the sum which the repairs required, the churchwarden made that rate by himself: and, on an appeal to the Court of Arches, Sir William Wynne decided that it was valid. After all these authorities, he hoped that it would be no longer contended that no power existed to enforce a right expressly given and recognised by the law. But, in the measure of his Majesty's Ministers, they sought to extinguish at once the right and the remedy, and in a pamphlet recently published on the subject of Church-rates, by a supporter of the Government, it was stated, that vestries had refused to make a rate because the Chancellor of the Exchequer had declared himself opposed to it; and, indeed, from the course pursued it was no wonder that the Dissenters had assumed their lofty tone, and declared that Church-rates were an insult to their consciences and understandings. For his part he never would recognise the principle that the conscience of one party could be set up as a limit to 953 the rights of another. If they were once to admit it, what would prevent the plea of conscience being set off against every other description of debt. Every one possessed of land in this country was bound by an ancient law to pay a certain proportion as a Church-rate, and every halfpenny of that proportion was as much the property of the Church as the remainder was the property of the owner of the land. It was argued that, as the rate was intended only to be levied on the land, its payment in the present way was not warranted; but this was only a technical objection, for it was raised off the lands or tenements—always liable to the rate, which in letting was usually taken into consideration. If, for instance, a person belonging to the Dissenting body—as the Lady Hewley, whose name had been already introduced into the debate—if such a person sold an estate upon which a Dissenting chapel had been built, and sold it with a clause providing that if the amount of the ministers' incomes from the rents of pews, or otherwise, did not come up to 200l. per annum, the person purchasing the estate should pay up the difference, the purchaser could scarcely refuse on conscientious grounds to fulfil the contract. If the matter came into a Court, and that the purchaser of the estate pleaded his conscience as a reason for his refusal to fulfil the contract, the Court would tell him that he had no business to make a purchase with such a covenant unless he had intended to abide by it; that of course he got an abatement of the price, because of this provision in his bargain; and that it was unjust in him to seek to have the advantage of that abatement without adhering to his portion of the contract. This was exactly the case as regarded Church-rates. All tenements were let liable to their payment, and let at a lesser rate because of the liability. The right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in speaking on this question when about to introduce the resolutions, made use of an argument which he thought equally applicable in supporting his opinions. The right hon. Gentleman, when arguing in favour of the existence of an Established Church, said, that everybody was bound to pay the taxes for the maintenance of war, however indisposed he might be to concur in the policy upon which that war was undertaken; and that as it was better to have a national religion than no religion, so all were 954 bound to pay for its maintenance. This argument was as valid for a rate to support the fabric of the Church as it was for the support of a national religion. Now, how was the national Church to be recognised? Was it to be tested by the numerical strength of its followers? If this were the case, they had the authority of the Patriot newspaper, the organ of the Dissenters, to show that, exclusively of the Wesleyan Methodists, who, by the way, were only a modification of the Establishment, they amounted to no more than nearly a million. He did not mean to argue that the imposition of a rate was just if it unfairly affected only a comparative few to show that those who advocated the abolition of Church-rates ought to abstain from the use of any argument founded on numerical strength. The Dissenters said, they did not resist the tax because of its amount, for they did not pay more than 20,000l. or 25,000l. out of the whole sum of 250,000l.; and yet, they not onlydemanded that theirportion should be remitted, but that the other 225,000l., paid by persons who had no objection to the rate, should be remitted also. Thus for every 100l. remitted to them for the bonus thus given to them the Church was to be deprived of 1,200l. more. Lord Althorp had brought forward a plan far preferable to the present Ministerial one, but he was not strong enough to carry it on account of the cry raised against it by the Dissenters. Let the House remark the different treatment which the Dissenters and the members of the Established Church received on this question. In 1834, a measure was brought forward by Government, with respect to Church-rates, which did not satisfy the Dissenters. They remonstrated against it, and Government abandoned the measure. In 1837, another measure was brought forward, with which the members of the Established Church were greatly dissatisfied. They remonstrated against it. What was the consequence? Was the measure withdrawn? On the contrary, it was pertinaciously pressed forward, and with a Ministerial majority of only twenty-three. This, too, was done by Ministers, professing to entertain a great regard for the Church: In the discussion of the appropriation clause on the Irish Church question, the noble Lord opposite (Lord J. Russell) contrasted the abundance of the Irish with the scantiness of the English 955 Establishment. It was no later than June last, that the noble Lord admitted the revenues of the English Church not to be equal to, or at most barely equal to, its scanty support. In addition to this, when the present measure was about to be brought forward by Government it was stated, that the revenues of the Church were not to be touched; yet, notwithstanding these admissions and this assurance, a distinction was about to be made between Church land and Church revenues. Lord Althorp laid it down as a principle, that he would not touch the Church revenues, and he adhered to the principle. The noble Lord opposite laid down the same principle, but how did he adhere to it? Why, he proposed first to cut off the Church-rate, and proposed to procure for the Church an equivalent, to be raised out of funds which were already her own. In 1836 it was stated, in order to quiet the public mind on this subject—it was deliberately stated—that the Church in England had no surplus revenues, and a pledge was given to provide an equivalent for anything which the Church might lose in making the arrangements respecting Church-rates. What was the result with respect to the statement and this pledge? In 1837 Ministers come forward with a proposition to do away with the rate, and by way of an equivalent, to wring a new value from the Church lands. What was the reason of this change? Was it anything as to the amount of the rate? Was the justice of the case altered—had any new light broken in upon Ministers—did any precarious exigency arise—or was it owing to the position of Government—the nearly equally-balanced power of parties in the House, aided by the pressure, that this question was made vital to the existence of the present Administration? Was it the meeting of Dissenters which had taken place the 20th of June, which had produced this change in Ministers? Had a promise been given to them of a speedy reparation of the crime committed there? Were Ministers about to act upon the principle of the steward, so memorable in the parable, who, when about to be dismissed from his place, went about discharging the debtors of the sums due to his lord? He might be wrong in his surmise, and the noble Lord looked as if he would say so; but, in the absence of some intelligible cause to explain the change, he might, be excused if he made an erroneous guess. Much had 956 been said, and frequently, in that House of the wholesome control of public opinion, and of the weight which should attach to the wishes of the majority; but it appeared that the wholesome control was now about to be reversed, and vested in the hands of the minority. On looking back to the time when the voluntary principle first began to be agitated in Ireland, the friends of the Established Church in England saw that the attack would next be made in this country. "No," said the Minister, "the cases are different; the Church of Ireland is over-fed, her means are too ample; but in England the Church has a bare sufficiency." Yet in a few months after this statement was made, the Church of England was convicted of the same plethoric affection, and condemned to undergo the same treatment. The real question was between two sacrifices—whether Ministers would give up their power, or consent to the sacrifice of the Church. The hon. Member for Weymouth had asked whether it was to be supposed that Ministers would condemn the Church? He did not think that they would willingly do so, but they were driven to the necessity of choosing between one of two sacrifices. When he spoke of the Church being sacrificed, he did so because he could not see any distinction between tithes and Church-rates. All the arguments founded on a conscientious scruple applied equally to the one as to the other. A distinction had been attempted to be made, by stating that the tithe fell on the landlord and the rate on the parishioners, but it should be remembered that the rate was fixed before the memory of man, and he could not conceive why an attempt should be made to take them away without making an adequate compensation. There was no more right to take them than to take away the funds for the payment of the interest of the National Debt or other such similar claims. The plan of equivalent proposed deserved no other title than that of a quibble. What new value was given to Church lands by the proposed measure which they did not before possess? By repealing the restrictive statutes regulating the letting of Church lands they acquired no new value; they were merely permitted to rise to their natural level. If the Radicals were right in the doctrine that the whole revenues of the Church belonged to the public, his arguments would lose some of their force; but ministers had not as yet put forward 957 so extreme and violent a doctrine. With the qualifications laid down in the resolutions before the House this doctrine, that the revenues of the Church were public property, was as strongly denied by Ministers as it was by him, or by those with whom he acted. He was ready to admit that the Legislature, if it could add a new value to land, was at liberty to apply it to public purposes, even though that land should be private property. Yes, he fully admitted this; but he could not conceive how Ministers could take the credit of adding a new value to Church lands by means of this measure. He would illustrate his meaning. If, 300 years since, the Crown had granted a franchise, suppose for the building of a market, and imposed a toll of a halfpenny upon every 20s., and if from the altered circumstances of things—the improvements in cultivation, &c—the market became so important as to induce the Crown to double the toll, this would be creating an increase in value which Government would be fully warranted in applying to public purposes to the construction of a pier, a bridge, a road, or in any similar way. If, on the contrary, an Act of Parliament had been applied for to remove restrictions with regard to the letting of private property, did the State ever step in to demand the produce of any improvement which might be the consequence? Decidedly not, for in this case no increase in value had been given to the land, as the improvement only followed from the removal of restrictions which prevented the landlord from making his leases in the same manner as others. This was exactly the case with the Church lands. There was no new value about to be added to them, and any increase in their productiveness would only be the consequence of a removal of restrictions. It was argued that by the Ministerial plan better provision would be made for keeping the churches in repair than now existed, but how was this to be the case, when the amount proposed for that purpose was to be no more than at present 250,000l.? The right hon. the Chancellor of the Exchequer said, that any interest which might at present exist in the improvable nature of the land was of a doubtful character, and that no one could decide whether it belonged to the lessor or the lessee, the landlord or the tenant. Both parties, however, were opposed to the plan, for both thought they possessed an interest; and, in this state of the question was it not perfectly allowable 958 to them to say to a third party, "You are not at all entitled?" It was argued that this would be but a small concession to ensure peace. After what had occurred it was quite natural that the House should distrust these promises of peace, which were held out on every occasion, but only showed that each fresh concession was productive of new demands. This had already been the case with respect to the Dissenters' Marriages Bill. When that Bill passed the House of Commons and was sent up to the Lords, they were told that it would give entire satisfaction. This was followed by the Births Bill, which it now appeared did not give satisfaction. How could it be said to give satisfaction when there was at present a Bill before the House to amend it? No, the voluntary principle came distinctly before them, proposing to deprive the poor of all access to religious instruction. What, then, were the grievances which the Dissenters complained of? Not those which were sought to be remedied by the Marriages Bill—not those to which the registration of Births Bill had been applied. It now appeared that the grievance complained of by the Dissenters was the existence of the Established Church. Formerly the complaint was, that the establishment refused to tolerate Dissenters. This was in the age of bigotry, but in these enlightened days the Dissenters refused to tolerate the establishment. If food or shelter—if any of the corporeal wants—were to be provided men would make an effort to procure them, for themselves; but it unfortunately happened in spiritual matters, where provision was most wanted, it was least looked for. The people of this country were not, however, prepared for the cruel theories of the political economists—they were not prepared to adopt the voluntary principle, or to take the first step, in a series of proceedings, the result of which would be to do away with all provision for the religious instruction of the poor. The voluntary principle might do for the rich, who could make provision for themselves; but it would not answer for the poor, who could not afford the means necessary for such provision. Would they provide for the poor, the things necessary far their bodily wants, and leave them without that sacred provision without which all else would be little here, and worse than nothing hereafter? Those who took as peculiarly their own principle "the greatest happiness of the greatest number" should not neglect this. The cause of the 959 Established Church was emphatically and peculiarly the cause of the poor, and those who advocated the voluntary principle in opposition to it advocated the cheerless and chilling doctrine that religion was only for the rich, who could afford to pay for it. At present the poorest subject of the realm had the means of worshipping at the altar of his God. Let not Parliament presume to deprive him of that privilege. After he had toiled for six days let him not on the seventh be debarred from the enjoyment of that consolation and encouragement which religion afforded to all. Instead of diminishing they ought to increase his opportunities of confirming himself in those tenets of faith which were "the means of grace and the hope of glory."
§ The Solicitor-General
said, that if the hon. and learned Member who had just sat down had a right to complain, as he had complained in the commencement of his address, that the real question at issue had been departed from by hon. Members who had preceded him, how much more reason had he to make a similar complaint, after the speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman and his elaborate peroration, more worthy of a Roman Catholic bishop in the French Convention, at the period of the revolution than of a Member of the British House of Commons? The hon. and learned Gentleman had stated, that with regard to the present question, his Majesty's Government occupied a very false position; that with language in their mouths, breathing love and affection for the Church, they had nevertheless a constant leaning towards the voluntary principle, and that this they had manifested by every sentiment they had expressed, and every measure they had introduced. In order to bear out those assertions his hon. Friend had had recourse to statements contained in papers, he (the Solicitor-General) knew not whence they came; and from petitions for the language in which his learned Friend was the first to admit no one in that House could be responsible, and which to use his own expression, were couched in rhetorical flourishes. What was the sole foundation of his hon. and learned Friend's argument? His hon. and learned Friend seemed to think the measure under the consideration of the House, whether good or bad, was an approach to what he called the voluntary principle. Now, by a Church Establishment he (the Solicitor-General) understood a Church which the poor man might visit without charge, which 960 was provided for him. By the voluntary principle he understood a Church which every man must provide for himself. Now, in what way could his hon. and learned Friend point out how a Church kept up by one fund approached more nearly to the voluntary principle than a Church kept up by another fund? His hon. and learned Friend contended that the false position of his Majesty's Government was evinced by the humble tone of the law officers of the Crown; and he had observed that his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General had so high a professional reputation that he could afford to lose the portion of legal character of which his assertion that there were no means of compelling a parish to raise a Church-rate would deprive him. Now, he begged leave to take his full share of the responsibility which attached to that opinion. He believed that there was no right to compel the raising of those rates, because there was no remedy against their being raised, except, perhaps, that proceedings might be instituted in the Ecclesiastical Court for the punishment of the individuals who refused to concur in the rate. An hon. and learned Friend of his, whom he did not see in his place—the hon. Member for Cardiff—had stated on a recent occasion that he was in possession of certain manuscripts which established the fact, that in early times the law sanctioned the doctrine that when the parish refused to make a rate the churchwarden might make it himself. If that were really the law all difficulty on the subject would be removed. But it was certainly very extraordinary that in the numerous discussions which the subject had undergone no one had before ventured to assert that such was the law. A fallacy ran through all the debates on this measure. It was assumed by those who opposed it that it was intended solely for the relief of the Dissenters. That he never would admit. Whether the measure was right or whether the measure was wrong, it must be allowed that experience had shown that these Church-rates had long been the cause of great scandal to the Church. That admitted—it being acknowledged that the evil was a great one—the question was how it was to be got rid of? Why, it could be got rid of only by the abolition of Church-rates. In what way did his noble Friend purpose to abolish them? Was it not by the substitution of a fund adequate to the purpose, and which might justly be resorted to? Parliament could in no way show itself more friendly 961 to the Church Establishment, it could in no way secure to that Establishment a more immediate and permanent benefit—than by removing the scandal inseparable from Church-rates. The noble Member for Lancashire had on a former occasion admitted, that any ecclesiastical property which was found to be superfluous might be applied to State purposes. He did not go so far; but he maintained that it might be employed in some other manner for the interest of the Church. His hon. and learned Friend who had just spoken had commented on what he called the change of opinion on the part of his noble and his right hon. Friends which had taken place since the year 1834, when he the hon. Member for Exeter proposed a measure exactly similar to the present, but which his noble and right hon. Friends then opposed. Now, the measure proposed at that period by the hon. Member for Exeter was so far from being a measure exactly similar to the present that it was only half that measure. The measure proposed by the hon. Member for Exeter, in 1834 went to abolish Church-rates, but did not provide any substitute. He thought that even making Church-rates payable out of the Consolidated Fund was better than the present system. He would say, however, that for the attainment of the great object which they had in view they should overlook all minor differences. It mattered not whether Church-rates were a tax or not; they should not allow them to be felt as a tax; and therefore it was that the right hon. Baronet had said it was, his intention to get rid of the impost of Church-rates, which brought the Church into discredit, because it was considered a great practical grievance, the effect of which was to keep in a state of alienation the Churchmen and Dissenters. A remedy, then, must be found, and, as he believed that remedy was to be found in the proposition which had been submitted to the House by his right hon. Friend, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he should most conscientiously vote for it. He believed that it would put an end to those disgraceful brawls which so often occurred on the question of Church-rates.
§ Sir Francis Burdett
observed, that it might appear a little presumptuous in him to differ in opinion from a great and able lawyer, holding office under the Government, on the subject of law. Yet as he recollected that common sense was the foundation of common law, and common 962 law was the subject which the House had to deal with—he must own that he had heard with surprise that hon. and learned Gentleman declare, that in England there would be an immemorial and imprescriptible right, with no means for obtaining that right. If such were the fact, then he would say the Court of King's Bench were bound to find a remedy to redress such a wrong. With reference to the question before the House, he denied that there was any grievance on the part of Dissenters of this country in this matter. He must protest against such an assertion, and he must express, with the greatest disgust, his feeling at the pretension of conscience being brought forward, the fact being that as soon as Church-rates affected their pockets the consciences of those who opposed them immediately dictated that this was an unjust demand. He denied the justice of this pretence on the part of the Dissenters. The Dissenters who possessed property purchased that property with this contingency annexed to it; it was no personal tax—it had nothing whatever to do with religion. It was a debt due to others, which they ought not to withhold. He objected both to the resolution proposed, and to the amendment which had also been put; and more particularly to the latter, because it stood in the way to the giving a direct negative to a measure which was founded on the grossest injustice—which interfered with the rights of property and with the usages of this country. He would say, in justice to the Dissenters generally, that the Church-rates were opposed by a portion of the Dissenters only, and not by the whole body. A great and most respectable body or portion of the Dissenters, it was well known, entertained no such scruples as those which were put forward on this question. He adverted to the Wesleyan Methodists, a body of men between whom and the Church of England there was really so little difference—a body of men who had so proved their sincere attachment to the Church of England that opportunities should be made to include them with the Church. He contended that the Wesleyans did not object to the payment of a just debt. Nay, he was persuaded they carried the matter further, and that they believed the mild, liberal, and tolerant Church of the country to be a great benefit, and that all sects under its protection were bound by the greatest obligations for that extreme liberty which 963 under different circumstances they could not find. Now, he objected to the scheme itself, because it had been shown by an eminent lawyer, the hon. Member for Exeter, also by the hon. and learned Gentleman, the Member for Ripon, and it had been unanswerably shown by those hon. and learned Gentlemen that this measure was one of the grossest injustice—that it subverted a large portion of the property of this country, and interfered by the power of the Government between the proprietors and lessees—that it violated the rights of property, which had become so complicated by time and circumstances; that the measure was not only unjust, but inexpedient, and utterly impracticable. He would say that this measure was inexpedient; and though he thought the proposition of Lord Althorp, which had been carried by a large majority, and might have settled this question, was preferable to this present plan—even though it was still objectionable, yet he did not know why the country should be taxed for the sake of some political Dissenters. The change of the plan was certainly for the worse. He should like to know how it would be likely (unless some new scheme of a commission were devised, entailing enormous expenses on the country, to see what was the state of the repairs of the Churches) he should like to know how the Churches were to be kept up in repair so Well or so economically as by the mode of law at present established, by which persons residing in the different parishes were interested in seeing that the edifices did not go into a state of dilapidation, and who acted upon the principle that a stitch in time saves nine. It was impossible to suppose that if this expense were to be paid out of the public purse the Churches could be kept in a state of efficient repair. He, therefore, thought the measure was impolitic; but he objected to it chiefly because it went to an isolated object, and to affect the rights of property, for the small sum of 250,000l. He objected to the scheme, moreover, because he was satisfied it would be found to be impracticable even by those who wished to pass the measure, which he contended had already been thrown out, if they looked to the consideration to be given to the opinion of the House as expressed on a former occasion, when the majority was formed by placemen, and adherents of the ministry, who, even in olden times of the Reform Parliament, would not have been held of sufficient weight to decide such a 964 question. When they saw the state of party in that House, it was impossible for them to sanction this measure. They could have no confidence in his Majesty's Ministers. Would the House support and look to them to uphold the institutions and constitution of the country? He thought on the contrary, they were a weak Ministry. To attempt to impose a measure on the country which was carried only by a majority of twenty-three in the debate on the principle, seemed to him to be one of the most extraordinary and most unjustifiable circumstances he had ever known. But, fortunately, there was still another House, there was, happily, as yet, a check and a control on the acts of the House of Commons; and the country might feel itself safe and secure in the full consciousness that that most unjust, most iniquitous, and most impolitic measure had no chance of ever being carried into law. Early in the course of the debate the hon. Member for Leeds, who was always so sensitive on the subject of the claims of the Dissenters, denied most distinctly that the Dissenters had any wish to subvert the Established Church of this country. But as that hon. Gentleman did not carry all the body of the Dissenters in his belly, and as he always cautiously gave his opinion rather as his own than theirs collectively, he should proceed to show the House what weight ought to be attached to that statement' When he spoke of the Dissenters, he did not wish to be understood to mean the Dissenters at large, the great portion of whom were a most respectable body, and not at all opposed to the present system; but the political Dissenters merely, who were small in number, though they contrived to make a great noise, and not at all formidable in any way, though they were enabled by the public papers, to fill the country with their clamour. To show the House the object of these individuals, in contradiction to the assertion of the hon. Member for Leeds, he should read an extract from one of their organs, and leave the question to be judged by itself. A Dissenting journal of the date of the 9th of March last, published in Birmingham, spoke as follows in reference to Church-rates:While we join in the general expression of thanks offered by the country to the Ministry, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, let us not be understood as for a moment saying that the Dissenters, in the event of this measure passing, will have received a boon at their hands.965 So that, whatever Parliament did or was committed to do, was not considered a boon: though before its announcement it was received with thankfulness and gratitude. It then proceeded:—One portion of the Church bonds are removed; but let no one confound the question of Church-rates with the Church question. The Church question has not yet been mooted.That was of a piece with the meaning of the hon. Member for Middlesex, at some public meeting, on a recent occasion, when he said, "Let us first get the Church-rates abolished, and then we shall have some ground to go on for the subversion of the Establishment." The article proceeded:—But we give notice to the Churchmen that, as far as we are concerned, we shall not the less earnestly seek for the separation of the Church from the state than we did already for the abolition of the church-rates.And yet, after this, the hon. Member for Leeds would say that such was not the object of the Dissenters whom he purported to represent. But a pretence of conscience was started by them as an argument; a thing never heard of before on the subject. Those great men of that sect, the Doddridges, the Baxters, the Matthew Henrys, this Robert Halls never urged such an argument—never thought of it, in fact. Their consciences took a different turn from those who called themselves their followers. But what an argument! It was an attempt to get rid of a just debt and nothing more. What man of honour or honesty ever set up such an opposition to a just demand? But what followed was still beyond all that preceded. The writers of that document, besides giving "notice to the Churchmen," talked of altering the fundamental laws of the country in such a manner that, were it not altogether unworthy the notice of Parliament, might be made the subject of grave accusation. They proceed to say—We are quite aware that the question is already before the public; but it is neither the abolition of church-rates nor the expulsion of the bishops from the Parliamentary Peerage that will satisfy us. We will make the Church of England what she in reality is—one of the sects of the country.Now, that might be very honest in the writers, as it certainly was very plain-spoken of them; but would the House agree to these propositions? He thought these sentiments very shallow, very silly, and very absurd; but if the "wants and wishes" (to use the cant of the patriotism of the 966 present day) of those whose sentiments they were should be complied with, every man who had seen even half the period of his life would soon be compelled to acknowledge that Providence had been top bountiful to them. He (Sir F. Burdett) should like to ask hon. Gentlemen who were now requiring all these things, whether, when the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts was first mooted, those restrictions imposed on them by the people of England at a period when it was deemed essentially necessary—he would ask them whether before the repeal of those Acts were granted it was not looked on in the light of a boon, a blessing? But now the Dissenters thought differently. Gratitude with them seemed to have a kind of restrictive force, to lose its power when there was no longer a favour to be obtained, and to perish when the exertions which should have called it perpetually forth were at an end. From that censure, however, he exempted the large body of non-political Dissenters, as well as the respectable portion of the Roman Catholics of Ireland—the former of whom had as little to do with the agitation on the subject of Church-rates as the latter had with the other kind of agitation which he firmly believed the great majority of them looked on as the worst curse of their unhappy country. But, with such sentiments publicly proclaimed, what encouragement had the people of England to pursue any longer a course of concession towards them? If a concession were made it was at once said to be extorted by conquest; and favours when conferred were spoken of as rights which had been long withheld. But if they thought they could intimidate the spirit of this great Protestant nation—to undermine and subvert the Constitution and the institutions of this country, he could safely assure them that they would find themselves grievously, and, he would add, happily, mistaken. Well, then, the measure before the House which had been so completely overthrown on law points by the learned lawyers who had combatted it, and in the calculations on which it was founded, those "mares' nests" of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, that picking of one set of men's pockets to put it in those of another—that sort of petty larceny—what remained of it? It was not merely the small sum of money which was in question—the great question at issue was in reality the principle of interference with the property of the country—the shaking to its very foundation the constitution of the 967 Church of England. He did not know why Lord Althorp had not carried his measure on the subject, but in his opinion) it would be decidedly the best for the country, though it was a boon which he maintained the Dissenters had no right to demand—to be released from debts contracted by them with a full knowledge and perfect consciousness of the fact. They held an equivalent for it. The Church had nothing at all to do with the question. It was as though an estate should be disposed of, subject to a contingency—that of keeping a pack of fox-hounds, for instance. Many hon. Gentlemen, no doubt, affected to think that the sports of the field were profane, but on that subject he (Sir F. Burdett) widely differed from them. He would say to them, in the words of an elegant English poet—There are, born in the Samian school, who thinkThis pastime scarce humane;But in my mind and not ungentle eye,His life is pure that knows no fouler stain.But he denied the grievance complained of altogether. He denied the justice of the demand—he denied the policy of conceding that demand: and he thought that, independent of these, were it ever so just and ever so politic, the measure of his Majesty's Ministers was the most objectionable which could well be imagined for the purpose, and the least likely to be efficient for the smallest good. Under these circumstances—and believing that by the question at issue the voluntary principle was put to the vote of the House—for it was much too contracted a view to confine speculation on the subject to Church-rates—the question was strictly whether it was to be the voluntary principle or an Established Church? That was the way to put it to the House. A decision which was only sanctioned by twenty-three in favour of the Ministry could not be the decision of the country. Having thus put it to the House he should sit down, having shortly expressed himself as well as he could under present circumstances—but with the utmost confidence in the good sense and good feeling of the gentlemen of England, and of the people of England who would support them. He sat down, he would repeat, in the most perfect confidence that the measure before the House would never be passed. He would in conclusion say a few words of himself. It was with, great regret that he found himself compelled to act against hon. Gentlemen whom he saw op- 968 posed to him. It was a great sacrifice; but his whole life had been one sacrifice for the good of his country, and whatever pain it cost him he was content to suffer for the same cause—"His gratiora dictu alia esse scio, sed me vera pro gratis loqui ei meum ingenium non moverit necessitas cogit" to that course which he then pursued. He objected to the amendment because it stood between the true vote of the House and the fact. It was high time now for the people of this country to declare that they would not admit of any further innovations in their onstitution, in Church or in State.
§ Mr. Sheil
was understood to say, that the hon. Baronet would have done better to have maintained a judicious silence—such a silence as he had long observed. He would abstain from speaking of the enlightened language of the hon. Baronet, who talked of the hon. Member for Leeds having "the whole of the Dissenters in his belly." The hon. Baronet, too had alluded to another House in glowing terms—in terms which were better adapted, perhaps, for that House than the House of Commons. The hon. Member had referred to his Majesty's Ministers, of whom he had spoken in language of respect, and yet he was astonished he had not called them his noble and right hon. Friends. But he said, that the Ministry were weak. He had given them to understand that the man who led that House was weak—that he who carried the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts was weak—that that man was weak who introduced the Reform of Parliament Bill into the House of Commons—he said that that man was weak who, under even the Melbourne Administration, carried the English Municipal Corporation Bill—the hon. Baronet spoke of him with compassion! He believed that sentiment had its origin in sympathy. He looked upon the hon. Baronet as a noble relic of a temple dedicated to freedom, though ill-omened birds built their nests and found shelter in that once noble edifice. Although the hon. Baronet was now allied with the men who were the antagonists of Reform in every shape—although he was allied with the party which was headed by the chief constable of the Tower—although the hon. Baronet was allied with the party (he did not intend to speak in offensive language when he said so) which was in power when the misdeeds—for there was no use in employing a partial phrase—when the misdeeds of Manchester were rife—still it was due to the hon. Baronet—[Cry of "Ques- 969 tion!" and "Order!"] He thought it would be felt that the speech of the hon. Baronet was of such a miscellaneous nature, that it went over such a vast variety of ground, that it contained so many references to Ireland and to a vast variety of other topics, that he was not deviating from the proper course of debate when he ventured to advert, in what he was sure the hon. Baronet would feel to be the language of Parliamentary courtesy, to certain passages in his previous political life. He was, he confessed, about to advert to some incidents remarkable not only in the biography of the hon. Baronet, but in the history of the times in which he had lived. But when he so adverted to them it was for the purpose of giving his meed of humble praise to the previous conduct of the hon. Baronet. Might he suggest to the hon. Baronet that it was now somewhat unreasonable on his part to complain of agitators? Malevolent people might say that the hon. Baronet felt (he hoped it was not the case) like the once popular actor who no longer obtained the applause of the upper galleries. [Cries of "Order," and "Question."] He owned, he thought, that the phrases employed by the hon. Baronet towards some who sat on that (the Ministerial) side of the House, might justify the House in bearing with him if he spoke of the course which the hon. Baronet had latterly pursued in the language of what he admitted to be severity, but which he insisted was not in the slightest degree removed from the proper limit of discussion. But since the House had called upon him not to advert to the personal conduct of the hon. Baronet, he would simply and shortly state that he charged the hon. Baronet with being guilty, in every one of the tenets, in every one of the abstract propositions the hon. Baronet had that night laid down, of the most palpable, he would not say the grossest, inconsistency. What was the statement made by the hon. Baronet at the outset of his speech? Did he not say that the proposition of the Government involved a violation of the rule by which property was secured? Did he not say that the proposition, if carried, would shake the security of property to the foundation. [Cheers]? He took that cheer as an admission that such was the language of the hon. Baronet. Had that always been the language of the hon. Baronet? On the 6th May, 1824, the hon. Member for Middlesex brought forward a motion to 970 inquire whether the property of the Irish Church was not more than commensurate to the services which it had to perform. On that occasion the noble Lord whom he saw opposite—the noble Lord the Member for Lancashire (Lord Stanley)—delivered the speech, conspicuous, no doubt, at the time, but rendered more remarkable afterwards in consequence of the noble Lord's ostensible adherence from that period to the propositions he then maintained. It must he felt that the motion made by the hon. Member for Middlesex on that occasion involved to a certain extent the principles on which the proposition of the Government now rested. At all events it was contended on the other side of the House that if Church-rates were abolished the foundation of the Church would be shaken. The hon. Baronet, indeed, went further, and said, that the security of property would be affected. Now, what was the language used by the hon. Baronet on the occasion to which he referred, in May, 1824? He knew that the House had a general distaste to references made to speeches delivered in what the hon. Baronet called the "olden time;" and the House perhaps was right in feeling and expressing that distaste, because it was not fair to refer to casual or isolated expressions in bygone speeches, in order afterwards to ground a charge upon them; but when a man in the year 1837 laid down certain broad abstract propositions—when he found fault, not with the details of a measure, but came forward with a distinct and decisive denunciation of its principle upon general constitutional grounds, it was fair, he thought, to go back, not to particular phrases, but to the general tenor of a comprehensive speech delivered in the year 1824, in which the hon. Baronet deliberately, clearly, and beyond all equivocation, laid down doctrines of an abstract nature diametrically opposed to those which he now came forward to advocate. The passage he was about to quote did not refer to the inadvertencies or inconsistencies to which he took the liberty of adverting at the outset of his observations, and which the House, with its usual good sense and tact, had not allowed him to dwell upon, because they were too notorious to require repetition or illustration; but this, in 1824, was the language of the hon. Baronet, who spoke now of the necessity of upholding the Protestant ascendancy in Ireland. He intreated the attention of the hon. Baronet to what he 971 was going to read—he knew it was necessary that the hon. Baronet's memory should be refreshed. On that occasion the hon. Baronet was not contented with going into the grievances under which the Irish people were labouring—he did not confine himself to the specific facts brought forward by the hon. Member for Middlesex—the hon. Baronet did, as he had already mentioned by way of introduction to what he was going to read, distinctly state the broad, general abstract grounds on which he intended to vote for the motion of the hon. Member for Middlesex. This was the statement:—With regard to the Church of Ireland, I am one of those who do not believe Church property to be so mischievous to a country as many persons imagine; but neither, on the other hand, do I consider it so sacred, or to stand on the same footing, or to be hedged found by the same protections, as private property. The property of the Church is, pay given for a public service, and it requires that the service should be performed. One portion of it was given for pious uses; and as to the donors, who were, according to some Gentlemen, to have their gifts set aside by any alteration of Church property, I will ask to what Church did they give this property? Certainly not to the Church which now holds it, but to another, from which it was taken by the State and transferred to this. As to the arguments, therefore, which have been addressed to the interests of the landed gentlemen, telling them to beware of shaking their own property by suffering that of the Church to be touched, I trust, Sir, that the landed Gentlemen of this House have too much good sense to adopt any fear of the kind, and too much manliness not to treat such opinions with contempt. If it can be shown that the property of the Established Church in Ireland is so distributed as to be a great evil—if it can be shown that by altering the distribution We shall largely promote the interests and happiness of all the people, that we shall benefit the public—if it can be shown that this property is an enormous grievance, will it not be absurd to say—[Sir Francis Burdett interposed an observation, the purport of which did not reach the gallery.] Does the hon. Baronet say no (continued Mr. Sheil)? Does he say that these are not the sentiments he then expressed? Why, he was a teller on the division which took place upon the occasion. The tellers were Joseph Hume and Sir Francis Burdett. Ay, and since I am pointing out the inconsistencies of public men, I may state, that I find in the list of those who voted for the proposition of the hon. Member for Middlesex, 972 the name of Maurice Fitzgerald, who has since contested the representation of Lambeth. [An Hon. Member: And Lord Palmerston.] Do you want more names? Then I will tell you that in the same list is to be found the name of Sir James Scarlett. If you do not think me capable of replying to the hon. Baronet, I appeal to a higher authority, and refer you to his own distinct, explicit, solemn denunciation, of the Irish Church, founded upon the abstract doctrine that the property of the Church is the property of the State. I proceed with the passage from which I was quoting at the point from which I was broken off by the interruption of the House:—Will it not be absurd to say, that it is not to be touched—that Parliament cannot alter the destination of the property of the Church—when it is shown that this destination is an alarming evil, and that the alteration would be productive of great public good?"*He should not have said one word about the Irish Church, had not the hon. Baronet gratuitously availed himself of the opportunity of animadverting upon the conduct of Irish agitators—upon the conduct of those, and the House well understood his meaning, whom he described in sarcastic tones, as the supporters of the Government. He was not ashamed to say, that he and those who thought with him, were the firm supporters of the Government which carried the English Municipal Corporation Reform Bill—that they were the supporters of the Government which carried the Births and Deaths Registration Bill—that they were the supporters Of the Government which carried the Poor-law Amendment Bill—a Bill which the right hon. Baronet opposite declared he would not consent to rescind—which the Duke of Wellington, to his honour, declared he would never repeal. Let him do the right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel) justice. This new alliance was no alliance of his. It was not "Peel and Burdett," but "Burdett and Oastler." But, to return for a moment to the subject of the Irish Church. The hon. Baronet (Sir Francis Burdett), who declared that he had never undergone any political metamorphosis—who maintained that his political creed, political character, and political views remained unspotted and unchanged'—let the House hear what he said of the Irish* Hansard (New Series) vol. xi. p. 577.973 Church, of which he was now such a devoted and enthusiastic advocate, in the year 1824. In the same speech from which he had already quoted, the hon. Baronet said,With regard to the Church of Ireland, the single question is, does that Church do good or evil? Is Protestant ascendancy—for that is what is meant by preserving the Church—of so much benefit that it must, at all hazards be preserved, or is it not a curse to the people of Ireland? Even if it can be proved that the Protestant ascendancy is not an evil, it does not follow that the Church should be protected in all its wealth. But if that ascendancy is the cause why all classes have not equal rights—if it prevents the Government from doing justice to all its subjects—if it exposes the majority to the tyranny of a small number, and will not allow the nation to be governed by any other principle than terror, then, Sir, I cannot consider the Protestant ascendancy as so necessary to be preserved; or that it is not of more harm than good."*He would really appeal to the hon. Baronet whether the language he had held that night was not at utter variance with the sentiments he expressed in 1824. [Sir Francis Burdett: No.] The hon. Baronet said, "no." To that "no" there was no reply, or, if he ventured to give an answer, it could only be this: that the Irish Roman Catholics had disappointed the hon. Baronet's expectations, and although he felt the Established Church to be a grievance.—[Sir Francis Burdett: No.] Then the hon. Baronet must have spoken in a manner at variance with his feelings. [Sir Francis Burdett: No, no.] I speak (continued Mr. Sheil) of what happened not ten or twelve years ago, but in 1834. In that year, feeling the absolute necessity of having the Church question settled with a view to the peace of Ireland, I took the liberty—I believe it was in replying, or rather attempting to reply, to a speech of the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) the Member for Lancashire, who was then a Member of the same Government with his noble and right hon. Friends—I took the liberty at the time of suggesting that it was incumbent on his Majesty's Ministers to make an explicit declaration on the subject, and I called upon every one of them in the House of Commons to declare their opinions upon it. I own that on that occasion I addressed myself more particularly to the* Hansard, (New Series) vol. xi. p. 578.974 noble Lord (Russell) the Secretary for the Home Department, who, it was said, upset the cabinet a few days afterwards. And I cannot help claiming to myself some credit for sowing the seeds of salutary discord which grew up in precious fruit to my country; for, from the discussion which then took place the split in the cabinet arose, and not long afterwards the noble Lord (Stanley) opposite, and his companion (Sir J. Graham) abandoned the Administration. On the 6th of May, 1834, the noble Lord (Russell) the Secretary for the Home Department, stated, in consequence of a question put to him by the hon. Member for Tipperary, that he felt it his duty to state, that his opinions upon the subject of the Irish Church remained unchanged; and who was it that rose immediately afterwards and expressed his pleasure at hearing the declaration? Why, it was no other than the hon. Baronet, the Member for Westminster. Sir Francis Burdett got up as soon as the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Home Department, sat down, and declared that his opinions also upon the subject of the Irish Church remained unchanged, and that he thought it absolutely necessary that that Church should be reduced; and he distinctly and warmly expressed his gratitude to the noble Lord for the sentiments he had uttered. These were his words:—He thought he saw for the first time a glimpse of hope of removing what had been so long rankling in the minds of the Irish people, and of making that union, so important in other respects, a source of strength and happiness to both countries. This object appeared to be of such magnitude, that all other subjects and details shrunk into utter insignificance. He was prepared to make as great a sacrifice in a spirit of justice or of generosity as any Irish Member, for he felt it was both politic and wise in this country to carry this object into complete effect. He felt strongly upon this subject, for from an early period of life he had been deeply, though, perhaps, not prudently, implicated in it; but it was a subject which was calculated to drive a wise man mad. But he admitted that he felt then not as an Englishman, except as desiring to promote the good of his fellow subjects. He rejoiced at the feeling tone which had been employed, as this was a subject which bad kept Ireland in a ferment at all times, as the great grievance of a large proportion of the population of Ireland, and if arranged at an early period, all heart-burnings and discontent would have been prevented."** Hansard (Third Series) vol. xxiii. p. 667.975 I abandon at once (Mr. Sheil continued)—I deprecate any language of severity in speaking to the hon. Baronet. I would address him only in the language of respectful remonstrance; and after the passages I have read from speeches made by him in May, 1824, and May, 1834, I would ask him—I will use no stronger terms—is there not an anomaly in his conduct? What has happened since 1834? Will anyone tell me what has happened since? Have we changed our language? Is not our tone the same? How are we changed? I admit that there have been great changes, I admit that public men have changed, I admit that there have been some extraordinary alterations in the minds and opinions of some; but as far as I can form the slightest judgment of myself, or of those with whom I am in the habit of acting, I do not know in what particular we have deviated from our former conduct. I entreat of those who rise to answer me, to vindicate the consistency of the hon. Baronet. I do intreat them to tell us upon what ground it is that his conduct has been changed, or what circumstances have arisen that in his or their estimation justify the alteration of his former sentiments and opinions upon so many important political topics. I confess that I have hitherto spoken rather more in reference to the hon. Baronet than to the subject matter before us; and I think myself justified in having done so, in consequence of the more than indirect allusion which the hon. Baronet made to the party to which I am attached. What! do you expect that we should stand by and listen with indifference and with apathy to the supercilious scorn with which reference is made to us? Do you expect that we should stand meekly by and never raise a voice in vindication of ourselves, when men speak of us in language not to be misunderstood, as if we were a body of beings that could with impunity be trampled upon? The hon. Baronet knows it is otherwise. He has fought to long in our ranks not to know our spirit and determination. He has known us win many a victory before, may he live to see us achieve many hereafter. Ireland had the advance of England upon the question of Church-rates. The abolition of that obnoxious impost in Ireland had been extorted from the noble Lord (Lord Stanley) some years ago. On that occasion the Dissenters of England stood boldly and resolutely forward to 976 maintain the cause of Ireland; and the Representatives of Ireland, are now ready to give to the English Dissenters all the aid in their power in return for the good service they have performed for Ireland. Personal interest in the question before the House they have none; but they have more gratitude than the hon. Baronet ascribes to them; and, acting upon that feeling, I, for one, will not omit an opportunity to strike at every link of the chain which marks and degrades the Dissenters, but can no longer bind them. Church-rates having been abolished in Ireland, it was only just and fair said the hon. and Learned Member that the same principle should be applied to England: that which released the Roman Catholics of Ireland from the payment of an odious tax ought also to be applied to release the Dissenters of England. What was the policy upon which Church-rates were abolished in Ireland? They were abolished in that country because millions of the people demanded their abolition. Thousands upon thousands demanded their abolition in England, and if it were found expedient to yield to the wishes of the people of Ireland, upon what principle of fairness or justice could the wishes of so large a portion of the people of England be denied? He would maintain the Churches, the sacred edifices resorted to by the majority of the people in England, in all the nobleness and loftiness that became their sacred purposes, but he would do it out of some other fund than that wrung out of the reluctant hands of those who held no communion with the establishment.
§ Sir Robert Inglis
alluded to the personal remarks which Mr. Sheil had made upon the conduct of Sir Francis Burdett, whose constitutional language that night had done him high honour, had recently been subjected to a trial, and by that trial had been honourably acquitted; and had it not been for that trial and that honourable acquittal he believed the House would not have been indulged with the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Tipperary. For, with the exception of the last five minutes of his speech, not one word had the hon. and learned Gentleman said which had reference to the question before the House. All his observations had been confined to the conduct of the hon. Baronet the member for Westminster. He (Sir Robert Inglis) would not interrupt the progress of the debate by answering or attempting to answer the question which the hon. and learned Gentleman had put to 977 them, although he could well conceive how strong and convincing an answer might be given by some Gentlemen in the House when the hon. and learned Gentleman asked what the change of political affairs had been since the year 1834 which could warrant the alleged change in the views and conduct of the hon. Baronet the Member for Westminster. That answer, however, he would leave for others to give at another period of the debate. At that moment his sole endeavour would be to confine himself to the question immediately at issue. Every Gentleman who had preceded him in the debate had considered the question merely in this point of view, whether a sum, not apparently a large one, should be taken from certain sums at present exclusively applicable to the purposes of the Church. He confessed that he considered it as a much more vital question than one of mere pounds, shillings, and pence; and he was content to look to the state of the public mind upon it. He believed that there never was a question upon which the public opinion had been expressed so disinterestedly, so explicitly, and so fully as on this question of Church-rates. He hardly knew any question, not even that of the abolition of negro slavery in the West Indies, upon which so many petitions had been presented to the House; and he was perfectly certain, that no occasion had ever occurred when the prayer of so many petitions had been to continue, not to abolish, the payment of any particular impost, but absolutely to continue a burthen on themselves. Such petitions ought to have considerable weight. He had himself presented several petitions, signed by all the rate payers of the parishes from whence they came, and many of them were Dissenters. The petitions from the Dissenters of Scotland in favour of the Ministerial plan were evidently grounded on the belief that a successful attack on the Church of England would ultimately lead to the overthrow of the Established Church in Scotland, while those who petitioned against that plan were equally convinced that the defence of the Church of England was essential to the maintenance of the Church of Scotland. With respect to the law upon the subject of Church-rates, it would be in the highest degree presumptuous in him, after the able speech of the hon. Member for Bridport, to make any observations. That speech, he considered, had quite settled the point as to the law of the question: but he would claim on the part of the Church that protection, what- 978 ever measure should be passed upon this subject—that protection to which it was justly and by law entitled. Wherever there was a will to do right there was a way; and if it was a maxim of law that there was no wrong without a remedy, then he would say that the law advisers of the Crown were bound to see that any measure brought forward should, while it professed to remedy an abuse, tend to maintain the existing privileges of the Church rather than endanger her future liberties. He had heard it stated, not only from opponents, but from some of his Friends, that the present system of Church-rates must be given up because of the very strong feeling that prevailed throughout the country against them. All he could say was, that he never would admit that resistance to the law was a sufficient ground for its repeal. He would never consent to the proposition that turbulence and almost rebellion was a fair ground for the Legislature to adopt a measure which it otherwise would not enact. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the noble Lord at the head of his Majesty's Government had stated, that they would not do anything in favour of the voluntary principle; but if the present measure were carried, the voluntary principle would, pro tanto, be established; because, after the fund proposed to be furnished by the present plan should have been obtained, there would still remain a large sum to be supplied for the necessities of the Church; and unless that sum should be contributed upon the voluntary principle, the Church would in effect be impoverished and deserted.
§ Debate adjourned.