§ Mr. Easthope
after presenting petitions praying for the abolition of Church-rates from a number of places, proceeded to address the House on the motion of which he had given notice, for leave to bring in a bill 766 to abolish Church-rates, and to era-power the Members of the Established Church to levy a tax on their pews and seats for the maintenance of churches. He felt assured, that he should not in vain entreat that the House would abstract itself from that excitement under which both it and the country had for some time passed been found, and apply its attention to a subject which, though not so exciting in its character, was not less important than many of those questions which had been occupying the public mind, inasmuch as it bore an int mate relation to the religious feelings and privileges of the people. He was confident, that the House would on this occasion set a good example, and would show to the country that even in the midst of any excitement, however intense, it was not inattentive to a subject that concerned the consciences of a considerable portion of the people and intimately affected the religious peace of the community. He was very desirous, in bringing this question before the House, to be expressly understood as having most earnestly and most honestly endeavoured within his own view, and he believed it was within the view of a great number of the petitioners whose prayers he had presented to the House, to promote the cause of the religion of the Established Church, and to free the best interests of that Church from those objections and from many of those difficulties and obstructions which it laboured under, and which were so deeply to be lamented. There was nothing he should more sincerely deplore than to be mistaken, either by the House or the country, as having for his object the lessening, in the smallest degree, or by any means damaging the religious influence which the Established Church actually possessed, or ought to possess, for the benefit of the community; and he did hope, that in this discussion they would abstract themselves from party views, and that whatever differences of opinion they might entertain with respect to the mode by which they would pursue their object, they would also abstain from unjust imputations of any planned intention to interfere with the religious influence of the establishment. He approached this discussion with inexpressible surprise at the fact of this question having been suffered to remain so long a subject of discontent and complaint. It was scarcely 767 conceivable how a cause which was obviously so much to be lamented, which had excited so much irritation, and which was in every way so disadvantageous to the religious repose of the country, should have been permitted to exist against the expressed opinions of many of the first authorities who had sat in Parliament. It would be in the recollection of hon. Members that there was scarcely an individual of distinguished rank and influence now in the House, or who had for many years held a seat in it, who had not considered this question as one of important difficulty, of great disadvantage, and one which it was most desirable for the interests of the country should be put at rest. In claiming the indulgent patience of the House, he would promise to requite that indulgence by occupying its time as briefly as he could, but he felt it was impossible, consistently with the duty he owed to those individuals whose petitions he had presented, and to the importance of the question itself, not to recal to the attention of the House, many of the sentiments which had formerly been expressed by individual members of it, tending to show the great importance they attached to a speedy and satisfactory settlement of the question; and how imperatively, in their estimation, justice demanded that the subject should be calmly considered, and finally settled. He would first remind the House of the debate that took place in the session of 1834, when Lord Althorp(now Earl Spencer) brought forward a motion for the settlement of this question. The noble Lord in the course of his statement to the House read the following words:—He considered that the dissenters were perfectly justified in bringing forward the detail of their grievances at this particular juncture, on this particular point, inasmuch as he thought that there was a great difference, in point of principle, between the payment by dissenters of tithes and church-rates. Church-rate was a tax laid on at the discretion of others, as far as regarded its amount; and the dissenters who were compelled to pay it, felt that they were compelled to pay for the administration of worship under a system they did not approve. For this reason, in his opinion, the dissenters had a right to complain of it; and he thought, further, that the Legislature was bound so far to relieve them. But while the system of church-rates, as the law stood at present, was grievous to dissenters, it could not be in any way satisfactory to the members of the establishment. The payment of church-rates had been refused in different parishes, 768 and the remedy given to the church had not been found sufficient to enforce the demand."*If any one had predicted after the question had been brought forward under such auspices, and after it had produced so much discontent, that it would have remained unsettled for ten long years, the man who hazarded such a prophecy would not have had credit for sagacity, nor have obtained credence for his prediction. Not only were the expressions of the noble mover on that occasion strong and pointed, but the expressions of other individuals, of rank and weight in the House, were in entire accordance. The noble Member for North Lancashire, then Secretary of State for the Colonies, in the same debate, spoke as follows:—He was perfectly ready to admit such maintenance of an establish church ought to be conducted upon principles and in a manner the least irritating and offensive to other parties, both as respected the amount and the mode of collection. He was equally ready to acknowledge that church-rates, as they stood, formed to the dissenters a serious and substantial grievance. … His hon. Friend had said (and he appeared to attach considerable importance to the statement), that it was only in fifty or sixty parishes that anything like successful opposition had been offered to the levying of church-rates; but his hon. Friend had not stated in how many instances opposition had been put down for a time in order to be renewed at a future opportunity, should no proposition be brought forward by the executive, and submitted to Parliament for the relief of Dissenters, and all parties upon whom that burthen might unjustly press. His hon. Friend forgot to tell them how many hundred parishes there were waiting to follow the example of those which had successfully resisted, should the decision of the Legislature give them no hope of relief. He would ask his hon. Friend what would have been the spirit of disappointment, the effusion of bitterness, with which the news would have been received throughout the parishes of England, if the payers of church-rates were to be told that Parliament, acting under the advice of his noble Friend, had not only determined to adopt no remedy, but were resolved to uphold the original form of church-rates to their full amount, with all that was vexatious and oppressive in their mode of collection, or unnecessary in their amount? Did his hon. Friend think, that the best mode of advancing the true interests of the church was by maintaining every one of its abuses? Did any man suppose that those interests were to be promoted by a profanation of the church itself year after year—by a desecration of the house of God by a squabble* Hansard, Vol. xxii. third series, p. 1013.769about church-rates at each succeeding Easter?He (Mr. Easthope) could not possibly use terms more impressive or appropriate upon this subject, and they had the advantage not only of the eloquence, but of the character and influence of the noble Lord. He hoped that the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford would allow him, with all possible respect, to appeal to him, and to enquire whether some of that prejudice with which the hon. Baronet was accustomed to approach this discussion, ought not to give way to the conviction which must be produced by a review of the prophecy of the noble Lord and its fulfilment. All that strife and bitterness—all that irritating conflict —all that profanation and desecration of the house of God—had continued and increased, and were exhibited, he would not say every year, but every day, to the destruction of all those charitable and kindly feelings which religious men of every class were anxious to encourage and promote. There was another authority pointing to the importance and necessity of settling this painful question which he could not forbear to cite, and which must have great influence with the House. He alluded to the right hon. Member for Tamworth, whom he was sorry not to see in his place, but who, though temporarily absent, surely could not regard the discussion of this subject with indifference. In reference to the time when Lord Althorp brought the question under the consideration of the House, the right hon. Baronet said:—He would not attempt to gain popularity at the expense of the noble Lord, by concealing what he had himself intended to do; and therefore he now declared that, although in the course of the present Session he should have attempted, had he remained in office, to effect an immediate settlement of Church-rates, yet it was his intention to adopt the principle of the noble Lord—to extinguish all equivocal and objectional charges, but to provide for the repair of the fabric of the Church out of the general revenue of the country, by an annual provision, to the extent, and for the objects contemplated by the noble Lord. It was right that the noble Lord should have the benefit of this declaration. * * So far as any question could be important to the maintenance of social harmony, to the promotion of satisfaction among the great body of the Dissenters, there was not a single question, excepting that of the Irish Church,* Hansard, 1035–1036.770which so much pressed for an immediate practical settlement as this of Church-rates, * * And on this subject of Church-rates, surely the noble Lord, adhering, as he professed, to his former principle, and being in possession of all the facts of the case, surely the noble Lord himself, one of the parties to the bill of Lord Althorp, and being now perfectly able to accomplish his object, surely he was bound to proceed, and not to leave unsettled for another year a subject so pregnant with the seeds of discord and collision. In consideration of the interests of the Church establishment—for the satisfaction of a large body of the people—for the accomplishment of their own pledges—to promote subordination and obedience to the law—to suppress individual complaints of grievance—surely, to accomplish all these objects, a Government fit to be intrusted with the management of public affairs would, without delay, take this matter into their own hands, and not surfer the law respecting Church-rates to be made a theme of discussion in public meetings, and a subject of resistance by parochial martyrs for another twelvemonth."*These sentiments were delivered in the debate of the 25th May, 1835, and he (Mr. Easthope) could not help expressing his surprise and regret, in which he was convinced many hon. Members participated, that this question, in spite of such language as that he had quoted, remained still unsettled. Year after year, discontent had accumulated to the great damage of the interest of the Church, to the extinction of harmony and good feeling, and to the perpetuation of strife and animosity. There was another authority on the same point, of which the country ought not to lose sight; and which very plainly, but at the same time very forcibly, impressed upon the House the necessity of settling this question, and predicted the consequences of deferring that settlement, which prediction had been but too lamentably fulfilled. He alluded to the right hon. Member for Montgomery, who, on the 21st April, 1834, had told the House that nothing like an evasion of the question could mitigate the dissatisfaction, and that the longer a complete and final settlement was postponed, the more would the prevailing bitterness be augmented. The words of the right hon. Member were these:—He agreed with the noble Lord (Lord Althorp) in thinking that the disputes which had arisen on the subject of Church-rates, in different vestries, were likely, if allowed to continue,* Hansard, vol. xxviii. p. 66–71771to prove prejudicial, not only to the peace of particular parishes, but to the general interests of religion. It was, indeed, said by his hon. Friend, the Member for the University of Oxford, that the resistance to the payment of rates was confined to forty or fifty parishes; but could any one doubt that the same spirit, when inflamed both by religious animosity and personal pecuniary interest, would progressively spread itself to a much more formidable extent? Another motive for altering or, at least, regulating the mode of imposing these payments, arose from the abuses which had notoriously grown up, and the improper charges which had been included to swell out their amount. For instance, the parish of Christ-church, Surrey, had been in the habit of voting an augmentation to the income of the minister out of the Church-rates, to the amount of 400l. a-year. If that were an augmentation consented to by all the parties who paid Church-rates in that parish, it would be highly meritorious and commendable; but if, on the contrary, it should be imposed merely by a majority in opposition to the wishes of the minority, he could conceive nothing more calculated to create irritation and resistance, particularly if that minority were Dissenters from the Established Church. It was obvious that if such an allowance could regularly be voted, there were no limits to which it might not be carried."*If, in the parish of Christchurch, they had ceased to pay the salary of the minister out of the Church-rates, or, if in the parish of Christchurch, Church-rates had been extinguished, the objectionable practice had been continued in Dover, as appeared by a proceeding in the Court of Arches on Wednesday last, and which he found reported in the public newspapers. It was stated by the counsel on one side, and admitted by the counsel on the other (the hon. and learned Member for Cardiff whom he did not see in his place), that in the Parish of Dover it had long been the habit to pay the annual stipend of the minister out of the Church-rates. This custom had produced the usual consequence, resistance, and an individual in rather humble life was under monition, and was exposed to the expenses and annoyances resulting from such a proceeding, whilst society there was involved in all the evils arising from this distressing schism. He (Mr. Easthope) submitted with confidence, whether it could be advantageous to any valuable interest, and especially to the religion of the Established Church, that such scenes should be permitted to continue. It would be* Hansard, vol. xxii. p. 1052.772 obvious, that a Church so wealthy, and so amply endowed for the purposes of religious instruction, ought not to resort to any such practice for the payment of its ministers. The practice was utterly indefensible; he did not believe that there was an hon. Member in the House who would support it; yet it had not only prevailed in 1834, but it existed down to the present moment, and was still the ground of strife and conflict. An interval occurred between the time when the question was introduced under the powerful auspices of Lord Althorp, and the period when it was again brought forward by Lord Monteagle. He need not occupy the time of the House in stating the reasons why the plan of Lord Althorp failed, or why that of Lord Monteagle was unsuccessful; he would only express his deep regret, that the latter had failed, for surely nothing more equitable, or more desirable with a view to the interests of the Established Church or the promotion of religion, could possibly have been devised. It would be in the recollection of the House, that the accounts moved for by Lord Althorp in 1834, showed, that the amount of church-rates was then about 560.000l.; and his Lordship then stated, that there could be no question that more than half that expenditure was of a very equivocal character, and that by prudent management it might be avoided. He believed it would scarcely be disputed, that a large part of the total sum raised by church-rates, constituting an intolerable grievance, and being extorted from those who conscientiously differed from the doctrines-of the Established Church, was occasioned by needless and profligate expenditure. He remembered, that in a debate upon a question of a somewhat similar cast the hon. Baronet, the Member for the University of Oxford (Sir Robert Inglis) said, that he never would voluntarily pay anything towards a system of religion from which he conscientiously differed. Such was the substance of the hon. Baronet's declaration in a discussion, he believed, on the grant to the college of Maynooth; and surely the rule which the hon. Baronet prescribed to himself ought to be extended to others: and he, of all men, ought to be most ready to relieve those who complained, that they could not conscientiously pay church-rates. According to the opinions of Members of a former House of Commons, which he had 773 read, it might have been expected, that ere now this intolerable nuisance would have been abated; but he would ask the House whether church-rates had ceased to be a source of conflict and animosity? The hon. Member for Kilkenny (Mr. Hume) had that night presented a petition from a gentleman who had formerly been a victim, and had endured incarceration rather than consent to pay the demand. In the town he had the honour to represent, another individual had been imprisoned for the same cause, and on a former occasion, he had stated, that that individual was an object of general sympathy and commiseration. One of the largest meetings ever held in that town, indeed, one of the largest meetings he had ever attended, had been held for the purpose of expressing that sympathy, and to petition the House for his release. He wished on the present occasion to recal the attention of the House to a fact he had formerly stated, viz., that in a ward of the borough of Leicester, containing, he believed, nearly 20,000 out of its 60,000 inhabitants, Mr. Baines, whilst in prison' for the non-payment of church-rates, was unanimously elected to fill a vacancy in the corporation. Surely, that fact afforded some evidence of sympathy. He had also stated, on a former occasion, what he felt it his duty to repeat upon the present, that the ministers of religion had found this oppressive and unjust impost, one of the greatest hindrances—one of the most aggravated difficulties—one of the severest afflictions in the course of the discharge of their sacred duties. It had been stated to him by a gentleman whose name was well known in the history of this country, and connected by blood with the great man who rendered that name memorable —the rev. Mr. Erskine, now removed to another places—that during his ministerial career, nothing had given him greater pain, or more obstructed his clerical functions, than the disputes on the question of church-rates. Surely, this was a fact well deserving the attention of the friends of the Established Church. No hon. Member, he was confident, would be found to argue, that any good could possibly arise to the Established Church from the conflicts now carried on in all quarters. He asked himself this question—has the prediction, that this strife and struggle would continue and be increased been fulfilled? Why, at this moment, legal pro- 774 ceedings were pending in relation to no fewer than the following places—Braintree, Bradford, Headcorn, Sutton Valence, Hackney, Brentford, Portsea, Weymouth, Dover, Ringwood, Bedford, Hayes, Wivenhoe, Lancaster, Great Yarmouth, Abergavenny. Not only had church-rates been extinguished in large populous towns, but in places of minor importance, situated in rural districts, where the influence of the parochial clergy might be supposed to be most powerful. Who could suppose, that the kindly intercourse which ought to be the companion and helpmate of religious instruction could coexist with hostile and irritating proceedings in the ecclesiastical courts? Families were alarmed at the threat of heavy costs—their minds from day to day were occupied with the dread of possible incarceration, and their feelings were perpetually irritated and excited by being required to pay that which their consciences, told them they ought to refuse. He knew, that he should now be told, as on former occasions, by the hon. Baronet, the Member for the Universiy of Oxford, that this was not a question of conscience, but of property; but how could that be a question of properly which depended on the will and pleasure of individuals meeting in vestry at Easter? How could that be a question of property when it depended upon the vote of the parishioners whether any rate at all should be fixed? If it were really a question of property, the only point to be decided would be how much should be collected. The question, however, always was whether any should be collected [No, no]. The hon. Baronet said "No, no," and he understood him to advert to the law of the case as delivered by Sir Nicholas Tyndal in the judgment he delivered in the Exchequer Chamber in the Brain tree case. That learned judge had indicated rather than laid down the positive law—that the parish church must be maintained, and that if the case came before the court in another form, it might possibly receive a different adjudication. But with all deference to the hon. Baronet, he might express the confidence he felt in the opinion of her Majesty's Attorney-general, who on this subject had addressed a letter to the noble Member for North Lancashire. That learned and hon. Gentleman had laid it down as his positive opinion—as a matter upon which he entertained no 775 doubt—as the result of most careful consideration, and not as a hasty declaration in the course of debate, which a Member, however learned, might be allowed to revise—that church-rates were not to be dealt with under any existing law as a question of property—that no rate could by possibility be made without the consent of the majority of the vestry, and that no rate otherwise imposed could be maintained either in the consistorial courts or in the courts of common law. In the same pamphlet the Attorney-general referred to the authorities of Baron Bayley and Lord Lyndhurst, and to a decision formerly delivered by Sir W. Wynne, and then proceeded as follows:—I may boldly ask, if this were law, would it not have been acted upon in some one of the many instances in which church-rates have been refused of late years? The civilians, and the common lawyers, and equity lawyers, who have been consulted about the mode of dealing with an obstinate vestry, while they have suggested the possibility of succeeding by mandamus or monition, or bill in equity, appear never to have thought of the plain, straightforward course of the churchwardens making a rate by their own authority. Let it not be supposed that this has been prevented by that which, were there such a power upon a refusal by the vestry, would be a shallow device—an adjournment for a twelvemonth. Such an adjournment, or any adjournment with the intention of refusing, is the refusal of a rate and would clearly admit the churchwardens to the exercise of any power which a re fusal confers upon them.He might here observe that it was within the knowledge of the House that, in general, church-rates were defeated by parish vestries adjourning the question for six or twelve months, the Attorney-general said, that it was impossible for such a shallow device to succeed if the churchwardens could proceed on their own authority to make a rate, but that any rate to be binding must be imposed by the majority of the parish. He then proceeded as follows:—But there is no ground for saying that the authority of churchwardens in making a rate goes farther than this—that if a vestry is regularly called to make a rate, and none except the churchwardens attend, the churchwardens then constituting the vestry may make a rate; as I conceive that they might do any other act competent to the vestry, of which they are members. Lord Holt is said to have been of opinion, ' that if there be public notice given to the parishioners, and they will not come, the churchwardens may make a rate without 776 them.' I have no doubt that this opinion is sound, and that it is the only foundation for the notion., that the churchwardens can make a rate without the parishioners. A more extensive power in the churchwardens was unknown to Lyndwood, and Gibson, elaborately defining the power of the churchwardens in making a rate, must be taken to deny it: ' Rates for the reparation of the church are to be made by the churchwardens, together with the parishioners assembled upon public notice given in the church. And the major part of them that appear shall bind the parish; or, if none appear, the churchwardens alone may make the rate, because they, and not the parishioners, are to be cited and punished in default of repairs. Hut the bishop cannot direct a commission to rate the parishioners, and appoint what each one shall pay.'With all respect for the opinion of the hon. Baronet, the Member for the University of Oxford, he (Mr. Easthope) apprehended that the House and the country would be more inclined to place confidence in a legal question of so much intricacy and difficulty, in the opinion of her Majesty's Attorney-general, and on this ground he thought there was no probability of any adjudication declaring that the churchwardens and clergymen, being in a minority, had power to make a rate without the consent of the parishioners in the usual mode of assembling for the purpose. If such were the case, he would ask whether it was likely that this question would thus be satisfactorily set at rest? Was it probable that hereafter it would present itself in a less complicated shape, surrounded by fewer difficulties, or less forcibly pressed upon the attention of Parliament than at the present moment? On the contrary, was it not to be expected, that in future years more conscientious individuals, like Mr. Baines, would endure the pain of imprisonment rather than suffe the greater pain of doing that which was opposed to the dictates of their consciences? Would not that circumstance of itself lead to continued and violent conflicts regarding church-rates, and would not the temple of God be even still more frequently desecrated? He was sure that the House would not consent, and least of all the hon. baronet the Member for Oxford, to perpetuate these scenes of strife and disorder. No man with strong religious impressions—no man who was anxious to promote the cause of religion and the best interests of the Church, could be indifferent to such proceedings. He should be asked how he 777 proposed to remedy these evils, and whether he had found the means of preventing what he so much deprecated? His reply would be, that, in the first place, he proposed to abolish the chief ground of discontent — Church-rates. If he could establish that the Church would be able to maintain its own fabrics—that its members were sufficiently numerous and wealthy, and that they were not, and could not, be indifferent to the cause of religion—he thought the House would see the reasonableness of requiring them, like the Dissenters, to subscribe for the maintenance of the fabrics of the Church. His bill would be, to abolish Church-rates, and to empower the members of the establishment to rate themselves in respect of pews and seats, for the repair and support of the buildings in which their worship was conducted. He was aware, that there was another subject of some difficulty in connection with this question; he alluded to the situation of churches built by funds derived from mortgage. Nobody could be so wild as to wish to violate the faith of Parliament, and this point might be a fit matter for consideration by a committee. Of course where individuals had advanced money on the faith of acts of Parliament, it would be impossible to interfere with their rights, or to apply the proposed law until the money had been repaid. All he wished to do, as he had stated, was, to abolish Church-rates, and to empower the members of the Establishment to rate themselves in respect of pews and seals, and he believed, that ample funds would thus be provided for the maintenance of the fabrics of the Church. Now, in confirmation of this, he had received a letter, not from an enemy of the Church, not from an individual indifferent to its interests, but from a clergyman of the Established Church, whose name he would state, and whose communication he would read. It was signed by the rev. J. Lowry, dated from the Vicarage Burgh, by Sands, the 9th of March, 1841, and bearing the post mark of Carlisle:—Sir—Observing that your motion for the alteration of the present mode of providing for the repair of the fabric of churches is fixed for the 18th, I beg leave to make a very few remarks upon this subject. I can assure you, that the fact is, that in many parishes in this and the neighbouring county of Westmoreland, Church-rates, as rates, have virtually ceased and determined. In this parish I endeavoured to have a rate made, but no rate 778 has been made, but was resisted on principle," (and to this part he begged the particular attention of the House,) "not as injurious to Dissenters, for here they are few, but as unjust to the farmer and occupier for the time being, and I much doubt whether ever a Church-rate can be made. No rate is made in Wigton. None, I believe, in St. Mary's Carlisle, and I know several churches which are immeasurably inferior in comfort to dissenting chapels, and for the repairs of which the incumbent would not enforce a Church-rate contrary to the will of a large minority of his parishioners. The fact is, that the measure which was proposed by Government, and carried by a small majority of five in your House, has shaken the ancient system to its foundation, and, unless some arrangement be made, will create multitudes of dissenters, if rates are enforced by process of law. I have written the preceding as a friend to the Established Church, and I conceive, that unless some alteration be made speedily, the congregations will diminish, from discomfort and default of improvement.I am, Sir, yours, faithfully,J. LOWRY.J. Easthope, Esq.P. S. As I am a stranger, I beg to add that I am not altogether unknown by the county and city members of Cumberland and Carlisle. "J. L.This letter is at your service, to use in any way you please.He felt that this was evidence which was not to be slighted; it was not the evidence of a dissenter, it was the evidence of a gentleman attached to the Established Church, and a member of that Church, and he gave his opinion that the interests of the Established Church would be greatly injured by this continued conflict upon Church-rates. He had received another letter from a gentleman, who might also be supposed to know something of the Established Church: it was signed by Frederic Bone, churchwarden of St. Andrew's, Plymouth, and dated 10th of March, 1841;—Sir—Observing by the public papers that you are about to propose the abolition of Church-rates—permit me to enclose, for your information, a statement made two years back of our church affairs; and since that time, by the same means, we have new-roofed the church, and made many useful repairs and improvements. The parish of Charles in this town, Tavistock, Stoke near Devonport, are following our plan of a pew-rental.I have the honour to be, Sir,Your most obliged humble Servant,F. BONE.779 He stated, also, the mode in which they managed, by assessing pews, to obtain, not only sufficient for the repairs of the Church, but for very substantial and useful repairs, by which they had prevented a recourse to that which had been the cause of so much strife and discontent. He had also received another letter from a sincere churchman and an enemy of Church-rates, in which he stated,Sir—In consequence of what passed in the House of Commons during the debate on your motion respecting Mr. Baines, I take the liberty of sending you the following case, in confirmation of your statement, that ' dissenters are not alone in their feelings respecting the impost of church-rates.' In this parish (Bury Pomeroy, Devonshire) there is not a single dissenting chapel, but as the Church will not hold half the population, and is some distance from the most populous part of the parish, a chapel of ease has been built, the congregation of which pay largely for their pews; yet they are also asked to pay to a church-rate for the minor expenses of the parish church. But about a year since the vestry refused a church-rate by a majority of three to one—no dissenter being present. Many of those composing the congregation in the parish church joined those who support the chapel of ease in opposing the rate, on the grounds that it was unjust to ask those supporting the chapel of ease to pay the minor expenses of the parish church, where they had not seals, when, by putting a small pew rate on the seats in the parish church, they might do away with a church-rate entirely.Now, he thought, that these cases were sufficient to convince the House, not only that chusch-rates were the cause of conflict with dissenters, who professed conscientious objections to their imposition, but that, in the opinion of Members of the established Church, they were an impost which neither agreed with their feelings, nor contributed to the welfare of the Church itself. There was another class whose feelings the House would not be inclined slightly to pass by, the opinions of the Society of Friends, who had quietly and silently submitted to this imposition from the origin of their society some two centuries since; and, although they had quietly submitted, as was their custom, to the distresses for this impost, yet it was impossible for human nature to submit as they did to such an impost without discontent; which it would neither comport with the character of the House or the advantage of the country to leave unmitigated. He would refer to a letter which he had received from a member of the 780 Society of Friends, which detailed some cases of fraud that had prevailed under the form of law in levying the amount of these rates. The House would recollect, that Lord Althorp had called its attention to the fact, that one objection to the continuance of church-rates in their present shape was, that a larger sum of money was collected than was required for any real benefit to the Church; and he thought, that the facts which he was about to bring before the House, in relation to the Society of Friends, would be evidence of such jobbery and robbery as the House must be desirous to avoid. The letter was dated Jubilee-place, Pontefract, 22nd 8 mo. 1840:—To Thomas Walton, Mayor of Pontefract: The bearer of tills petition, my Friend, Thomas Thwaite, requests thy interference in the case of Ann Tatham, she having last year suffered on account of church-rates amounting to only 1s. 2½d. an exorbitant distress, and has had no account rendered to her, nor is likely to have any, as a fresh demand has been made for another church-rate for the present year; she therefore solicits thee to summon the parties who made the distress to bring an account of the proceeds of the sale of the articles, a statement of which is under, which will oblige the complainant, Ann Tatham.—Articles distrained by Charles Stephens and his assistant: one copper kettle, 2s 6d.; one brass pan, 4s.; one coal-pan, 2s.; one warming-pan, 6s.; one toasting-fork. 3s.; one clothes-basket, 2s. 6d.; one oak dinner-tray, 3s. 6d.; one tea-tray, 2s. 6d.; one mortar and pestle, 1s. 6d.; one bright bar, 2s. 6d.—making in the whole, as valued, 30s. The effect of this petition was to procure an account of the rate and charges, which the officer makes to be exactly the sum the goods sold for, viz. 18s. 8½d. I took the affair up, and stated to the corporation, that the Act of William and Mary, the fourth, in the case of Quakers, foreseeing the extortion of constables, limits the amount of law charges to 10s for a church-rate; and after waiting for more than a year, 8s. 8½d. are ordered to be returned; but even in this case the female suffers a loss of near 22s. to pay 1s. 2½d. of church-rate.Now, here was a system that had existed for years, which individuals occupying high stations in that House had declared ought not to go on, which justice demanded should not continue, which religion required to be remedied; and yet the House had neglected its duty to the country, by permitting it to remain. His correspondent then said, that the constable's charges were for church-rate 1s. 2½d., information and summons 6s. 6d., and copy of distress warrant 1s. 6d., and levy- 781 ing, sale of goods, &c. 6s. 6d., making a total of 18s. 8½d. to raise 1s. 2½d. The same individual also stated the amount of rate to be levied in six different cases, and reaching only to 22l. 0s. 5d., and the total loss experienced by individuals after payment of the 22l. 0s. 5d. by the sale of their goods, &c, was 35l. 14s. 9d., and his correspondent added:—It will be observed in the above cases that the charges allowed by the justices to the constable, much exceed the limit of the act of William and Mary (the 4th) to 10s. for law charges. It will be seen the church-rate for the whole amounted to 22l. 0s. 5d., and the loss sustained by law charges and sale of goods below real value make the account 35l.14s. 9d. in the whole. This is a mild representation of the effects, because it must be observed, to the credit of the churchwardens, they had allowed several years to accumulate, which made the charge less than if demanded annually. The rate of one year is 1s. 2½d., and the loss sustained in goods amounted to 30s. until the overcharge of 8s. 2d. was returned.Such was the system, that in the year 1834, and again in 1837, it was proposed to remedy by legislation; yet, year after year had passed by, and instead of its coming before the House under the auspices of one likely to give it full success, it was left to an individual Member, unsupported by the influence of official station. He scarcely thought, that the House would refuse to entertain the measure which he had to propose; he scarcely thought that it would determine not to give it consideration; yet he could scarcely hope that in the present circumstances of the country, and in the short remaining time of the present Session, it would be possible to accomplish the end which he earnestly desired. This, however, he confidently hoped, that another year would not be allowed to pass without the subject being taken up by her Majesty's Government, in such a form as would put an end to that conflict, to that bitterness, and to that strife, which had been over and over again proclaimed by the House, to be at variance with' the justice and policy which ought to influence the Government and the Legislature of this country, He was also satisfied that the House, would not suffer the feebleness of the advocate to interfere with the importance of the question; but that it would look to the subject and the subject alone. He implored the House to give its best attention to that which he 782 was convinced would conduce to the peace and happiness of the country; and he made that appeal in the full reliance that, if they entertained his proposal now, even though it should not be passed, it would, at least, be the precursor to a more perfect and successful measure. He would, therefore, conclude by asking for leave to bring in a bill to abolish Church-rates, and to empower the Members of the Established Church, to levy a tax on pews and seats for the maintenance of churches.
§ Mr. Goulburn
before the question was put, wished to make a suggestion upon a matter of form. The hon. Member, in the explanation of his measure, had been so short—he meant in the explanation, not the speech—that he did not exactly comprehend the measure which the hon. Member intended to propose. He looked, however, to the notice, and found that it was intended "to levy a tax on pews and seats for the maintenance of the churches," and if that were the object of the hon. Member's bill, he conceived that it came within the rule of the House, which required them to go into a Committee of the whole House, before they assented to its introduction. He would, therefore, ask the Speaker whether the present question could be put?
§ Mr. Easthope
hoped that the objection of the right hon. Gentleman would not be found available. In his bill he had followed the precedent of other acts of Parliament, that had passed that House—he held one in his hand, and there were others to which, as he thought, no such rule had been applied. The act which he had, was the 2nd William 4th., c. 26, and was entitledAn act to equalise the ecclesiastical burdens in the parish of St. Mary, Islington, in the county of Middlesex; for partially altering the rents and profits of the Stone Fields estate, within the said parish Church of St. Mary, Islington, and the Chapel of ease thereto, and for other purposes connected therewith.He had followed the precedent set by that act, and no doubt that did not begin in a committee of the whole House.
§ Mr. Goulburn
said, that the operation of that act was limited to the particular parish, and it was either wholly private or partly private and partly public, and was thus under a different order: whereas the hon. Member's bill was for levying a general tax, which brought it under the ordinary rule of the House,
§ Mr. Easthope
might be permitted to state, that he did not intend by his bill to make taxation imperative in every case, but only to give persons duly assembled in vestry, if they should think fit, a power to levy a tax on the pews and seats of their respective churches.
§ The Speaker
observed that if it were the intention of the hon. Member to levy a general tax upon pews and seats for the maintenance and repairs of churches, he had no doubt that the course suggested by the right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge, would be necessary, and that the House must first resolve itself into a Committee. But it appeared from the explanation which had just fallen from the hon. Member for Leicester, that it was his intention merely to give a power to the vestry in each particular parish, to levy a tax upon pews and seats for the maintenance of the parish church. In such a case it was unnecessary to proceed by a Committee of the whole House. For although the old rule of the House applied to all taxes, the practice of the House had of late years teen different, and the Highway Bill, Municipal Corporation Bill, Irish Poor-law Bill, and Scotch prisons Bill, had all been introduced without a previous Committee of the whole House, being considered bills imposing taxes of an entirely local nature. Under these circumstances, he considered that the bill might very properly be brought in by motion, and that it was not necessary for the House in the first instance to resolve itself into a Committee.
§ The question having been put,
§ Viscount Morpeth
merely rose to state, that it was not his intention upon that occasion to raise any obstacle on the part of the Government to the introduction of the bill of his hon. Friend. The principle to which her Majesty's Government were not prepared to give their acquiescence was, to leave the matter to chance or option whether the fabrics of the churches should be preserved or not. That certainly was a matter of principle from which her Majesty's Government were not prepared to recede. At the same time he was quite alive to the objections which existed against the present system, and which had been detailed with great perspecuity by his hon. Friend, the Member for Leicester, to which no one was more alive than himself. He did not, of course, al- 784 lude to the principle of Church-rates, but the obvious and palpable results of the present system, and to the heart-burnings and irritation which were the more prevailing and not less mischievous results. Many localities were harassed by the present mode, and he was, therefore, friendly to any well-devised substitute for the present system. The Government of Lord Grey and the Government of Lord Melbourne had each introduced a plan, but on being laid upon the Table, it did not appear to obtain that degree of acquiescence which could inspire the hope that it would lead to a satisfactory settlement. As he understood from the proposal of his hon. Friend, he did not intend, in the body of his bill, to find in all cases a substitute for the deficiency caused by the total abolition of Church-rates, he only proposed that it should be a matter of chance and option whence the funds should come; and whilst this was left to chance and option, he was not prepared to give his sanction to the total abolition of Church-rates. However, as he thought it due to the importance of the subject that every proposition for a remedy should be duly considered, as it was desirable to have some settlement of the question, and as the hon. Member himself proposed to effect some substitution for the present compulsory mode, without taking upon himself to say that the proposed substitution would be adequate in amount, or satisfactory in its application; yet, with a view of considering that question, and not conceiving that the sanction of the Government to the introduction of the bill implied any sanction to the unconditional abrogation of Church-rates, he was not prepared to object to the introduction of this bill, reserving to himself full power to give the most ample consideration to its details, and when he saw the details, to give to or withhold from, the bill itself, his assent.
§ Sir R. H. Inglis
observed, that a fortnight ago the noble Lord, the Secretary of the Colonies, had said, that if the present motion were not likely to give rise to any discussion, he would not object to its being pressed at that time; but the noble Lord went further, and he stated with a full recollection of what he said on former occasions, that if the bill of the hon. Member for Leicester simply abrogated Church-rates, he would not assent to its introduction, but as he understood that 785 the hon. Member provided a substitute, he thought it would be fair that the hon. Member should be allowed to make his statement and introduce his measure. There was something plausible in this, and the noble Lord, the Secretary for the Colonies, might justify his assent that there was to be some definite plan suggested in the bill of the hon. Member for Leicester, which might justify his acquiescence in the other part of the measure. But he would ask any hon. Member who had been present during any part of the speech of the hon. Member, and even the noble Lord, whether they could conceal from themselves, that the utmost security which the Church and people would have for the maintenance of the fabric, would be as vain and illusory as the bitterest enemy of the Church could desire? Although he thought that the hon. Member for Leicester was wrong in his interpretation of the law, as to the assent of the vestry being necessary, yet could the noble Lord conceal from himself, that by the present bill he would be transferring the popular discretion as to the imposition of a rate on the whole property of the parish to a simple tax or impost upon pews and seats in the church? It was perfectly illusory to propose such a measure as this, for the right which the Church and the people of England had now to the maintenance of the fabrics of the churches. Yet it was because of this distinction, in what was proposed this year by the hon. Member for Leicester and that which was proposed last year by the hon. Member for Finsbury, that her Majesty's Government, forgetting not only their votes, but their speeches, now gave their assent to the present motion. He could not but recollect that every one of the Cabinet Ministers in that House voted against the bill proposed by the hon. Member for Finsbury to abolish Church-rates, whilst they now voted for a bill which abolished Church-rates, and provided a substitute as vain as the worst enemy of the Church could desire. How could they justify the course they were now taking? Not only had every one of the Cabinet Ministers voted against the bill last year proposed, but it was voted against by every one over whom the Cabinet had influence. He contended, therefore, that the question then before the House was, whether the noble Lord opposite did or did not consider the proposal of 786 the hon. Member for Leicester sufficient for the purpose? If he did consider it sufficient, why did he not give his full assent to the bill? if he did not, why did he permit it to be introduced, when he knew that it had no chance of attaining a second reading? He was not at liberty to attribute motives to hon. Members; but he might say, that certain measures had certain tendencies, and he contended that the assent now given to this bill would not have been given under other circumstances. It had been given under the influence of the present crisis. He was ready to listen to any reasoning against his conclusion, but the coincidence was remarkable. He knew that last year her Majesty's Government distinctly objected to a bill for the abrogation of Church-rates, and their altered conduct now must arise from their view of the crisis in which they were placed, or on the opinion that the panacea which the hon. Member for Leicester had proposed was sufficient to cure all the ills on which he had been making such an elaborate statement. The hon. Member had read a list of places, in which the raw material of suits in the ecclesiastical courts had been found. He (Sir R. H. Inglis) had counted those places, and he found, that out of 13,000 parishes in England, there were but fourteen in which there was found any suits; he thought, that this was sufficient evidence, that although there was excitement in particular places, it was limited to those localities, and was gradually diminishing even in those; that it was limited in its sphere, and diminishing in its activity. They had heard the hon. Member for Brighton state the gradual diminution of this hostility in the borough which he represented, and he believed that the more the law was understood, the more this hostility would decrease. With respect to the judgment of the Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas, he would only observe, that he believed, that the extreme remedy was not yet exhausted; that there was a way by which the present difficulties would be overcome, and before he interfered with the Established Church, he wanted to see whether the law as it at present stood, would not be sufficient to provide for all its wants. The hon. Member for Leicester had also referred to a statement made by him (Sir R. H. Inglis), that he would not voluntarily contribute to a church, the doctrines of which 787 he disapproved. The power of the law to enforce some means of supporting the Church could not be questioned; and if that were so, the question was not, what was the amount which should be paid. There was no doubt, that property of all classes or descriptions was liable to pay church-rates—property, whether occupied by dissenters or not, must be always subject to some impost, subject of course, to the discretion of the vestry or of the churchwardens. The hon. Member for Leicester had read a communication from the vicar of Burgh-on-Sands, who stated, that church-rates would produce ruin to the ecclesiastical system at present established in England, for he said, that the congregations diminished. He hoped, that this was not the case, and that no such discomforts as he described, would be produced in respect of the public worship of the country—a worship which he believed was the best inheritance of the poor man. He contended that it was the duty of the House to maintain that which was the property of the nation, and not remove, by the adoption of this measure, that which was a legal impost. The effect of the proposition of the hon. Member opposite, would be to deprive the poor man of his right to enter a church at all. It would render all seats and pews liable to be taxed. [No, no! ] If it were not so, he could only say, that it must be very different in its provisions from that which seemed to be implied by the motion of the hon. Member; for the meaning of that notice must be taken to be that the seats and pews should be taxed for the maintenance of public worship. [Mr. Easthope: Not all seats.] The hon. Member might make certain qualifications in his bill, but he could only judge from the notice, which seemed to say, that all pews and seats should be taxed. But he said, that when they found that the measure of the hon. Member, which the House was called upon to sanction, was not to be imperative or binding, even on those who occupied the pews and sittings, they could not but come to the conclusion, that if they adopted that measure in lieu of the present solid foundation of the Church Establishment which existed, they would accede to a mere illusory proposition, which would breakdown, as the hon. Member said, that the church-rate had failed in the fourteen places, the names of which he had quot- 788 ed, whenever there was sufficient excitement on the part of the dissenters to effect its destruction. For these reasons, and many others, which he still felt as strongly as he had ever done, and believing, in the first place, that even if the measure of the hon. Member were less objectionable than it was, it could not receive that consideration in the present Session which was due to the importance of the subject; and believing also that objectionable as it was, it should be resisted in every possible shape, he should give his opposition to the motion.
§ Mr. Hume
said, that it had not been his intention to address the House so early in the evening upon the subject, but that he felt himself called upon to rise, in consequence of the speech of the hon. Baronet, who had just sat down. With regard to the time at which this bill had been brought in, and the object with which it had been introduced, he could assure the hon. Baronet, that he was entirely in error in the statement which he had made. That this bill should be brought in was agreed upon as long ago as the month of December. The hon. Member for Leicester and he (Mr. Hume) had been at Leicester in that month, and a meeting was then held, at which he had attended with the hon. Member, and which, he must say, was the most numerous and the most enthusiastic meeting of dissenters at which he had ever been present. A request had then been made to the hon. Member for Leicester to bring in a bill early in the Session, and he had been honoured by his being requested to second the proposition, and there could be no allegation, therefore, more unfounded than that which had been made by the hon. Baronet; and he hoped, that the House would no longer believe, that the introduction of the measure was in anywise attributable to any anticipation of an election. He believed, that the opinion of the Government upon this question had never varied, and he should wish to know why the opinion of the hon. Baronet had been altered. He believed, that he was correct in stating, that the hon. Baronet had voted for the abolition of Church-rates in 1834. [Sir R. Inglis: No, no.] He was under the impression that the hon. Baronet was one of the majority of 256, who on that occasion voted in favour of the abolition of Church-rates, in opposition to a minority of 140. 789 Upon that occasion, he (Mr. Hume) had voted in the minority, and he did not think that he had ever had the good fortune to be in a minority with the hon. Baronet on any Church question, and it was certainly fifty to one that the hon. Baronet had taken a view entirely different from that which he (Mr. Hume) had espoused. The hon. Baronet said, that the Church would be starved if it were called upon to support its own edifices, and he seemed to think, that the Church-rates were alone applied to the maintenance of the buildings of the Establishment. If the hon. Baronet, however, looked to the returns laid before that House, he would find, that no less than 39,382l. had been raised by pew rents, to be applied towards the erection of such edifices. The hon. Member for Leicester, therefore, was only extending a principle which already existed, with this difference, that his proposed measure would lay the assessment on Church-goers only; it would compel those who attended the Church to support it, instead of throwing its maintenance most unjustly on the Dissenters. He said most unjustly, for reasons which he would state to the House. Originally tithes were given to maintain the churches. Why was not that system continued, by which those funds were legitimately applied to their own proper purposes? Because they had been absolved from such an application, and that very property which had been given for the support of the Establishment had been stolen, He contended, that the right of the Church to call for these rates, rested upon no better ground than that of the pickpocket, who put his hand into the pocket of another to take from it its contents. With regard to the maintenance of these imposts, he urged, that it was impossible that the law could support their being demanded. If it did, why, he asked, were they not paid? That they were not paid was obvious, and they amounted in effect, therefore, to a mere voluntary payment. The hon. Baronet said, that the number of disputes upon questions of Church-rates had much diminished; but was he aware of the cause of that? Those who had tried to support them had given up the attempt, and had ceased to continue those struggles in which they knew that they must be unsuccessful, and so far from the result being an acknowledgment of the impossibility of 790 their opposing the collection of these imposts, it was an absolute confession of the justice of that opposition to what was deemed a harsh and unjust tax. He found that the amount of repairs done was 248,000l., of which 56,000l. was supplied by endowments, so that the whole amount which would be required to be produced by the poor unfortunate Church of England, as it was attempted to be called, was considerably under 200,000l. for its own support, and looking at the sums of money actually applied to the repairs of the edifices of the Establishment, and seeing, that the Dissenters were taxed not merely for those repairs, but for all the other charges of organs, books, wine, clerks' salaries, &c, it seemed to him that it was most unreasonable that they should any longer be called upon for such supplies to meet the demands of those pluralists, who appeared to think that they were entitled to receive enormous sums from them for their own maintenance only. Ireland, it was to be observed, had been relieved of her difficulties in this respect; and seeing this, and that in Scotland no Church-rates were paid, with a small exception in Edinburgh, he asked whether it was fit that the present system should be allowed to continue in England? He found, that since the year 1800, a sum of 5,678,000l. had been paid for the support of the Church, besides about 5,500,000l. in tithes. The interest of this amount alone would have been more than sufficient to maintain the edifices of the Church for ever; and he thought, therefore, that churchmen ought to be by this time ashamed of the continued reception of the money of Dissenters for this object. When Church-rates were originally granted, it was because all the population of the country were of the same religion, and there were no Dissenters; but the same state of things did not now exist, and that class which before universally prevailed being now diminished, should no longer be entitled to call upon the rest of the people to support their Church. He had prepared a statement of the real situation of the Dissenters in England, Ireland, and Scotland, in readiness for that discussion which was expected to have taken place during the last Session upon the motion of the hon. Baronet (Sir R. H. Inglis), but which he had not then been able to use. The population of Britain in 1831, was 16,589,000, of Ireland, 791 7,767,000. The increase in ten years was a trifle under 15 per cent.; but for the nine years elapsed since the census, taking it at 13 per cent., the result was as follows:—
This existing population, in respect to religion, might be classified as follows:—
England, including the army and navy 16,100,000 Scotland 2,640,000 Ireland 8,776,000 27,516,000
In the British Isles, then, the dissenters exceeded the adherents of the Church in the proportion of seven to five. He thought that this question having been already before the House, and the House having in 1834 by a majority of 116, and in 1837 by a majority of five, acceded to the general principle involved in this motion, the hon. Baronet ought not now to resist the introduction of the bill of his hon. Friend. He did not ask the hon. Baronet, to agree to the details of the measure, which might be the subject of after consideration, but he thought that the House should not resist the present proposition. Some doubts had been expressed as to the effect of the details of the bill, but he believed they would be found to be these. The hon. Baronet was aware that there were endowments in many parishes which could be applied to the repair of churches; it was proposed that wherever there was not a sufficient endowment to complete the repairs which should be requisite, the vestry should be empowered to assess those going to the churches and using the pews to such an amount, as to produce so much as should be required for the repairs. That was, he thought, a fair proposition; and at all events, he hoped that the hon. Baronet would not reject the chance which was now afforded him, of settling that cause of discord and confusion which had so long prevailed. It might be so easily removed.
CHURCHMEN. DISSBNTERS. In England, the Churchmen to Dissenters as 5 to 4 8,950,000 7,150,000 In Scotland, as 5 to 3 1,584,000 1,056,000 In Ireland, the exact proportion in 1834 was 1 to 9⅓ 852,000 7,924,000 11,386,000 16,130,000
said, that he was afraid that if any other hon. Member rose before he had offered his sentiments to the House, he should be accused of offering a factious opposition to the principle of this 792 measure, because it was his intention to express the same views upon this subject as those which were entertained by the hon. Baronet. If he thought, that there was any possibility of the bill of the hon. Member for Leicester, being brought forward at any future period in the course of this Session for discussion, he might be disposed now to enter into the question fully, and to offer arguments against it; but he was sure that, under existing circumstances, the obtaining leave on the part of the hon. Member, to bring in his bill would have no further effect than the introduction of the bill, and that no other result would be produced by it beyond that popularity which he might gain with those whose views he had favoured in adopting the course he had pursued. Feeling, therefore, that it was impossible that any decision could be arrived at this Session upon this question, when there were so many others of much greater importance which had been abandoned by the Government by reason of there not being time to discuss them, while he should not oppose the introduction of the bill, he must not be supposed to give the least sanction or support to its proposed provisions. He maintained, as he ever had, that the continued support of the means of religious instruction to the people, and of the means of religious worship also, was incumbent upon us all, not only as Members of any particular faith, but as persons desirous for the maintenance of religion generally. He could show that this was as important to the Dissenter as to the member of the Church of England, but, as he had already said, this was not a time at which he felt called upon to enter into the question. With regard to the bill of the hon. Member, he must say, that he had never heard a proposition made more calculated to contradict the argument of the hon. Member himself. He said that his object was, not to lessen the religious influence of the Church of England over the different members of the Church, and that another object which he had in view was to put an end to dissensions in the various parishes of the kingdom upon the subject of Church-rates. What were the propositions of the hon. Member? First of all, he proposed that taxes should be levied on those inhabitants of a parish who went regularly to Church. The Parliament of Queen Elizabeth had laid a tax on those who did not 793 go to Church, but the hon. Member for Kilkenny said, that the proposition was to lay a tax on every person who was a Church-goer. The very effect of this would be to increase the influence of the Church of England, not only by securing immediate followers for it, but also by obtaining for it, as its supporters, those persons whose religious instruction was obtained through its means. "But," said the hon. Member for Leicester, "I will put an end to those discussions which take place at vestries." At present vestries had a discretion as to the appointment of Church-rates, and it was found that the Dissenters were unable to withstand the determination which existed to fix such rates. What was proposed to be done by this bill? Still to leave the power of taxing in the hands of the vestries, where it at present rested. What was the cause of dissension now? That that very power was exercised, which the hon. Member proposed still to enable them to exercise. He was anxious to reserve to himself the fullest power to oppose the second reading of the bill, and if the bill should reach that stage, he should do so upon the ground to which he had already referred, that it was to the interest of all, whether Dissenters or Churchmen, to maintain the Established Church, with its means of religious instruction, inviolate.
§ Mr. C. Wood
was glad, that the right hon. Gentleman who had just sat down, had intimated his intention not to oppose the introduction of this bill, because he thought that the House ought to be in full possession of the terms of the proposition which was made, before they came to any decision; and if the measure was allowed to reach a further step, they might be able more completely to comprehend those provisions, which at present, he confessed, he did not entirely understand. He meant to give no opinion whatever now as to the bill, or whether the proposition of the hon. Member for Leicester would meet the difficulty which it was intended to remedy. But of this he was sure, that nothing was more clear than the absolute necessity of introducing some measure by which the heartburnings of a great portion of the population of this empire might be removed. It was a subject upon which it was absolutely necessary that the existing discussions should be put an end to, and he thought, that it 794 was the duty of the House to allow the bill to be introduced, in order that they might know what its provisions were, and whether they were properly applicable to the object in view.
§ Mr. Plumptre
said, that he was one of those who had formed the majority in voting for the abolition of church-rates, in the year 1834, but he had voted in support of that proposition upon the distinct understanding, that some substitute for them should have been proposed. Viscount Althorp had proposed, that250,000l. should be granted for the maintenance of the Church, and he had voted for the proposition only in consequence of that grant being suggested. He could not see, that in the measure of the hon. Member for Leicester, there was any substitute for church-rates provided for, but, at the same time, he was not prepared to oppose the introduction of that measure.
said, that as the introduction of this bill did not appear to be opposed on the other side of the House, many of the observations which he had intended to make to the House were superfluous and unnecessary. But he availed himself of this opportunity of expressing his thorough conviction, that it was impossible, that church-rates should continue in the state in which they now stood. Such were the doubts and the confusion which existed in point of law— such were the difficulties which daily arose, as to the application of the law— and such was the repugnance of all, in very many districts of this country, at carrying the law into execution, that he might venture to say, that when it was carried into complete effect by the force and power of authority, the serious consequences which generally arose in the continued exasperation of the people, was much to be regretted. The hon. Baronet, the Member for Oxford, had made a statement that evening, as well as on other occasions, which appeared to him to be incorrect. The hon. Baronet seemed to be of opinion, that the church-rate was, in fact, a tax upon property. In his judgment, it was no such thing. He took it that it was this; by the law, as it formerly stood, it was supposed, that every person was a member of the existing church, and the consequence was, that as no man dared to deny, that he was such a member of the church, he could not deny his right to pay rates. Those 795 rates, however, from the beginning, had never been levied on property, they were levied on individuals by reason of their possessing property — not by reason of their possessing real estates, but by reason of their possessing property of any sort. By the law of the land, personal estate was assessable just as much as a real estate was, and if hon. Gentlemen would look to a book called "Reformatio Legis" which contained a statement of what was intended to be the law at the time of the Reformation, and of what was actually now the law, they would find it laid down there, that in case the funds of the church failed, three or four persons might be selected for the purpose of taxing every person residing in the parish, not according to his estate in land—not according to the holding which he had, or according to his stock in trade, but according to the whole means which he possessed. Some twenty years ago the question had been agitated, and it was then suggested, that if that law were then maintained, it might be said, that Rundell and Bridge might be taxed according to the contents of their shop, to which the answer given was, "So they may." It was a tax, he agreed, which had existed from time immemorial—which was perfectly legal; and whether it was to be enforced in one way or the other, and he would say nothing as to the judgment in the Brain-tree case; he agreed, that it was a lawful tax, and that there were means of enforcing its payment. He remembered, that twenty-six years ago, when he had first began to practise, the subject was little contested, and it was not for long after that time, that it was taken up with any seriousness. What the dissenters said, whether right or wrong, was, that the church-rate was a tax imposed upon the whole people at the time they were Catholic—that it was continued at the Reformation, though that was but a substitution of a dominant Protestant church for the Catholic church; and that when the Act of Toleration came, and dissenters from the Church were allowed freely to profess their religious sentiments, still the law was not altered, which it ought to have been, at a time when the dissenters were allowed to avow and follow their opinions without church censure or punishment. They also said, when sued and proceeded against for church-rates, that the avowed object for which they were 796 so proceeded against, was, to use their old formula, "their souls' health and the correction of their manners," but according to a religion, which had undergone an entire reformation. Such, right or wrong were the views of the Dissenters, and those views were followed up by the general opinion, that while the Church of England possessed property throughout the country, and the Dissenters received no support whatever from any such property; and while the Dissenters maintained their own Ministers, that it was most unjust to compel them to maintain the ministers of the edifices of a Church that was already supported and maintained by the public. The opinion that church-rates ought not to exist, was not confined to Dissenters, it was shared by Churchmen; and he would beg to remind the right hon. Gentleman opposite, that a late Regius professor at Oxford had felt so strongly on this head, as to have avowed in a pamphlet, published some few years ago, that he would rather give up church-rates than have to defend them. A similar opinion was very generally entertained. Another grievance, of which the Dissenters greatly complained was, that they should be called upon to contribute towards the ornament of the Church. During the discussion on church-rates in 1834, the very highest authorities on the subject laid it down as unjust to compel a man, not a member of the Church, to pay towards the maintenance of the pews, the organ, and the singers. The bench of Bishops had repudiated any wish to call on the dissenters to do this. He (Dr. Lushington) maintained, that all these grievances of the Dissenters ought to be redressed. With regard to the particular measure of relief now proposed to be brought in by his hon. Friend, the Member for Leicester, he would wish to reserve any final opinion upon it, until he had had an opportunity of considering its provisions. If the principle of the measure was to call upon those who occupied and paid for pews in the Church, and partook of the sacred rites of religion there, to contribute towards the maintenance and repair of the edifice, then he, for one, as a Member of the Church, would at once say, that such a proposition was just and right, and that a man who refused to accede to it was unfit to be a member of any church. But if the provisions of his hon. 797 Friend's bill should have a tendency to leave the Church unprovided with the means of maintaining and repairing the edifices, or of continuing the service as it had been accustomed to be carried on, then there would be reasons for his ultimately voting against the measure. At the present stage, however, looking at the unhappy divisions which the question had given rise to, and the bitterness of heart so contrary to the true spirit of Christianity, that it constantly produced, he for one would give his hearty assent to the introduction of the bill, hoping, that it might lead to the allaying of those discontents, while at the same time it would protect and uphold the Church itself; and convinced as he was, that the settlement of this question, so far from injuring, would benefit the Church, in proportion as it tended to uphold it in the opinions, feelings, and affections, of the people.
§ Mr. Estcourt
felt it impossible to let the debate come to a conclusion without expressing his conviction, that the proposition of the hon. Member for Leicester, as far as he at present understood it, was one that must be productive of much inconvenience to the public, while it was far from being salutary to the Church. There was no intention on the part of his hon. Friends around him to resist the introduction of the measure, though he apprehended it must be manifest even to the hon. Member for Leicester himself, that it would not ultimately be agreed to by the House. He did not mean himself to oppose its introduction, but he could not allow the motion to pass without entering his protest against the principle of the measure, as explained by the hon. Member for Leicester, as he might otherwise be supposed to acquiesce in it. With reference to what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, the Member for the Tower Hamlets, although the right hon. Gentleman denied, that church-rates were leviable upon real property only, yet his argument established the fact, that the impost was justly due and recoverable on the properly of individuals, the inhabitants of the parish. There was one other point to which he thought it necessary to advert. The hon. Member for Kilkenny had stated, that the number of dissenters in the United Kingdom was greater than that of the members of the Established Church. But the hon. Member had, in making his calculation, included the natives of Ireland 798 not members of the Protestant Established Church; and as no church-rates were levied in Ireland, he apprehended the hon. Gentleman was not justified in including them in a calculation applied to the present question.
§ Captain Pechell
said, the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford, had spoken of the cessation of the agitation upon church-rates in the country. He should not do his duty to his constituents or to the public meeting from which that petition had emanated, which that very evening he had presented to the House, if he did not state, that there was no ground for such a proposition. That petition was signed by 4,400 persons. The hon. Baronet had spoken of the majority of persons in the town which he had the honour to represent being in favour of church-rates. But how did that appear? Because the votes upon the question of a rate being made, had been taken under Sturges Bourne's act, and the clergy had brought up ladies and infirm persons to the poll in order to do all they could to secure a majority. He congratulated the hon. Gentlemen opposite on having withdrawn their opposition to the motion of the hon. Member for Leicester.
§ Sir A. Dalrymple
defended the votes taken on the question of making a church-rate as being legal, and also the character of the counter-petition which had been presented from Brighton. With regard to the public agitation upon the subject of church-rates, he confessed that he had heard great complaints, that her Majesty's Government had not carried the measure which Lord Grey's Administration proposed in 1834 for settling the question of church-rates.
§ Mr. Hindley
said, it was most desirable that this question should at once be settled, and that they were under extreme obligation to the hon. Member for Leicester, for bringing the subject forward. In the parish in which he lived, the effect of the disputes about church-rates was, that the bells of the church were silenced, and the clock had been allowed to stop. This had been done by the churchwardens. There was, however, no want of liberality on the part of the parishioners. Last year, upwards of 1,000l. was voluntarily subscribed towards the repairs of the church—a proof, that the system of church-rates must be defective, if it led the same persons to refuse to pay the 799 money wrung out of their pockets. Indeed, he thought it was quite a libel on the members of the church to say, that they would not support their own church. On the contrary, he was satisfied, that if the voluntary principle were introduced into the Church, it would be found to work better than the present system.
§ Mr. Easthope,
in reply, could not forbear remarking, that in what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman opposite, in his opposition to this motion, he had not been very accurate in his description of the substitute which he (Mr. Easthope) had proposed in lieu of church-rates. He had stated distinctly, he hoped, so as to be clear to the apprehension of the House, that he proposed, that members of the Established Church should have the power of taxing themselves, as to their pews and seats, for the maintenance and repair of the churches, and nothing that he had said, could involve the consequence that the seats of the poor would be taxed.
§ Leave given to bring in the bill.