HC Deb 11 February 1839 vol 45 cc225-8
Mr. V. Smith

, in rising to move for the reappointment of the Select Committee on Church Leases, said, that he would not trespass on the time of the House by urging at any length the reasons for its reappointment, and he would content himself by simply stating that the main object was to enable the Committee to decide whether they would report upon the evidence already taken, or call for further evidence. The Committee would consist of the same Members of whom it was composed last session.

Sir G. Sinclair

did not intend to oppose the renewal of this Committee, but he thought it was equally just and desirable that the Church and the Dissenters, the House and the country, should be made fully aware what was the specific object which her Majesty's Ministers expected or intended to attain through its reappointment. He knew very well that the Committee was originally moved for, in order to ascertain whether, by a different system of management, an improved value might not be conferred upon the property of the Church, through the medium of arrangements which might be beneficial both to the Church and to the lessees. So far all was well, but the great and important question undoubtedly was, to what purpose should any surplus so created be applied? Here it was, that the Church and the Dissenters were entirely at issue—that the hopes of the one party and the apprehensions of the other were excited. Her Majesty's Ministers might perhaps succeed in pleasing neither, but could not possibly satisfy both. Was it their intention to propose that this surplus should be devoted to purposes strictly ecclesiastical? If so, the Church would of course contemplate the renewal of the Committee without any alarm or distrust; but then the Dissenters would consider its renewal as a matter of perfect indifference—nay, even as a source of bitter disappointment. If, on the other hand, her Majesty's Ministers were resolved to propose that this surplus, instead of being dedicated to the promotion or attainment of objects sanctioned by the Church itself, should be diverted to so unjust and preposterous a purpose as that of exempting Dissenters from Church-rates, then indeed the Dissenters might rejoice in the resumption of the Committee's labours; but the Church, and all its friends in both Houses of Parliament, as well as out of doors, must view its reappointment with jealousy and alarm. It was impossible to suppose, that if the Dissenters could thus exact for themselves an exoneration from the payment of Church-rates, they would rest satisfied with accomplishing that object. They might on precisely the same principle insist upon being relieved from contributions to the support of the clergyman who officiated within its walls. The national Church was a national institution; its clergy should be maintained and its fabrics supported at the national expense, and the Dissenters could not on conscientious grounds object to an impost for securing and promoting either object, to which they were liable, not as holding certain principles, but as possessing certain property, which from time immemorial had been liable to that burthen. He knew that the dignitaries of the Church were not disposed to become mere annuitants on their own property; he knew that the clergy were not a little uneasy at the studied silence or cautious ambiguity which her Majesty's Ministers had lately adopted in regard to the appropriation of the surplus which it was now intended to create, and he hoped that her Majesty's Ministers would gladly avail themselves of this opportunity to give explicit information to all parties.

Mr. V. Smith

begged to say, that the question to which the hon. Baronet's observations applied had been purposely excluded from the consideration of the committee of last year. The only question to which their attention was directed was whether it was possible to create a surplus, and therefore, the question of the hon. Baronet would be more appropriately put when the Committee had finished its labours.

Sir Robert Peel

observed, that there was no doubt that the question might arise, supposing the Committee should report that it was possible to create a surplus, and he, therefore, gave as early an intimation as possible that he adhered to the opinion which he expressed last year, when the motion for the appointment of this Committee was originally made. He begged it to be distinctly understood that he made no concession to the principle upon which that Committee was appointed in offering no opposition to the present motion. The House agreed to appoint the Committee, and the question was fully debated at the time, and it would certainly not be convenient to discuss the question now, whether it should be reappointed, thinking, as he did, that it would be most expedient to pursue the inquiry which had already been partially prosecuted. He could not, however, allow the motion for its renewal to pass without stating that he entirely dissented from the principle upon which the Committee was originally appointed, and that to any attempt to divert any expected surplus from purposes purely ecclesiastical he should give every opposition in his power.

Mr. Brisco

approved of the reappointment of this Committee at the commencement of the Session, and he would take this opportunity of recording his opinion in favour of the measure already proposed to the House by her Majesty's Government. The measure ought to be gladly hailed by every member of the Established Church, because it would give a certain source of revenue for the maintenance of the fabric of the Church, it would remove the cause of the strife which had been engendered between the Church and the Dissenters, and would relieve many poor persons who could not at present afford to pay the tax which was imposed upon them.

Committee re-appointed.