HC Deb 08 April 1851 vol 115 cc1229-58

rose for the purpose of moving the following Resolution;— That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the law of Church Rates and the difference of practice which exists in various parts of the Country in the assessment and levy of such Rates; and to report their observations to the House. The hon. Member said, that it was then too late to contend that Church Rates presented no grievance; people would not readily credit this who were aware of the past history of the question. It was enough to say that for fifteen years previously almost every leader of every party had deprecated a continuance of the existing state of the law, and the mischiefs arising out of it. Sir Robert Peel, Lord Stanley, the Premier, and most of the Members of his Government, had at various times expressed their feelings very strongly on the subject; and unless they were to suppose that Parliament was a mere debating club, where any subject might be proposed for discussion, and where no one was to he understood to bind himself by professions of earnest zeal to amend the condition of society, to gratify on gaining office the expectations he had raised, it would seem to follow that no one party in the House was in a situation to affirm, upon its honour, that legislation of some sort was not imperatively demanded. He would not weary the House by long extracts from Hansard; he had dwelt sufficiently upon what might be called "the argument of authority" on the last occasion on which the subject had arrested the attention of Parliament; and any Gentleman who might be curious to know what individual Members had said on Church Rates, might find numerous extracts in the debate which took place on the occasion alluded to. He would, therefore, only make one brief quotation from the speech of a noble Lord, the head of a great party, who, should he ever come into office, he considered was pledged to introduce at once a measure on the subject. Lord Stanley thought and was ready to acknowledge "that Church Rates, as they stood, formed to Dissenters a serious and substantial grievance." It might be urged in objection to the Motion, that the Dissenters were comparatively tranquil and uncomplaining at the present time, and that the grievance was probably little felt. How far that was true, he should have occasion to show: but even if it were true, he had yet to learn that a period of excitement and acrimony was the best time for removing a grievance, or that patience was any ground for continuing persecution. He said that, precisely because there was now an opportunity of legislating calmly and deliberately should that opportunity be earnestly embraced. Some degree of quiescence might be ascribed to the fact that in large and populous towns Church Rates are practi- cally obsolete, Indeed, wherever the Dissenters were in a majority, or wherever they could command the assistance of a majority, Church Rates could generally be successfully resisted. He believed he was warranted in saying that in the borough he had the honour to represent, no Church Rate had been levied for many years; and yet the church had been restored, improved, and adorned in a manner which excited the admiration of every person of taste, and that entirely by the action of the voluntary principle. Indeed, in that instance there had not been wanting examples of liberal contributions from Dissenters themselves. But, with respect to the interest the question had excited in times past, nothing proved it more completely than the number of plans submitted to that House for the settlement of the question. There was the plan of charging the land tax with 250,000l. to be paid to the Commissioners for Building Churches; and, in certain cases, the cost of providing for divine worship was to be defrayed from funds arising out of pew rents. But how was this any relief to the Dissenters? In one sense it was an aggravation of the grievance, because it converted a contingent and defeasible liability into a certain demand. As it was, there was at least the chance of defeating the rate—either by nominating churchwardens favourable to abolishing the rate, or by proposing nominal rates, or by other means. But from the 'moment the charge was transferred to any portion of the public income, the grievance became fixed, permanent, and inevitable. Then came the plan of the late Sir Robert Peel, which proposed to charge Church Rates upon the Consolidated Fund, which was no more satisfactory to the Dissenters than the plan already described. Next, there was the plan of Mr. Spring Rice, which involved the following Resolution:— That it is the opinion of this Committee, that for the repair and maintenance of parochial churches and chapels in England and Wales, and the due celebration of divine worship therein, a permanent and adequate provision be made out of an increased value given to Church lands. This plan, however, met with an amount of opposition by which it was virtually defeated. A Committee was formed subsequently, to inquire into the mode of granting and renewing Church leases, which ultimately eventuated in the creation of a large annual fund, now applied to the extension of the Church. Again and again had the subject been opened, and with various success. But he thought he had adduced enough to prove the interest the House had always taken in the matter, and he wanted no higher justification for the Motion he was then submitting. It was time to sketch the state of the law on this subject. The first Braintree case occurred in 1837. In that instance the churchwardens, having duly convened a parish vestry and proposed a rate for the necessary repairs and expenses of the parish church, which a majority of the assembled parishioners refused to make, a rate made by the churchwardens alone at a subsequent meeting and on a subsequent day, was decided in "Burder v. Veley" by Lord Denman, in the Queen's Bench, to be illegal and void. It was worth remarking that in his judgment Lord Denman plainly laid it down that "churchwardens are only liable in respect of moneys which come to their hands." This was very important, because the contrary supposition was part of the argument of those who took an opposite view. He quoted Chief Justice North, it was true, to show that the spiritual court might excommunicate every inhabitant if the church was left unrepaired, but yet could impose no tax. Further, he did not deny that if a vestry were regularly called, and no one attended but the churchwardens, they might then make a rate; but he did not decide this point. It was right to state that Lord Denman distinctly laid it down, "the parishioners are charged with the repairs of the body of the Church. Neither does he deny "that the churchwardens are liable to spiritual censures if they neglect their duty." But if parishioners refused, he evidently did not think the churchwardens could be visited with any legal punishment. If they could, there would be a wrong without a remedy; but, that not being so, the argument fell to the ground. On appeal to the Exchequer Chamber, this decision in "Veley v. Burder" was confirmed by Chief Justice Tindal. But he laid it down in the most unqualified manner that the parishioners were liable to repair the body of the church, and that by the common law of England. To show the antiquity of Church rates, he cited a case of the time of Edward III., in 1370. His language on this liability was very precise:— The repair of the church is a duty which the parishioners are compellable to perform; not a mere voluntary act, which they may perform or decline, at their own discretion; the law is imperative on them absolutely, that they do repair the church; not binding on them in a qualified limited manner only, that they may repair or not, as they think fit; and that, where it so happens that the fabric of the church stands in need of repair, the only question upon which the parishioners, when convened to make a rate, can by law deliberate and determine is, not whether they repair the church or not, but how and in what manner the common-law obligation, so binding on them, may be best and most effectually, and at the same time most conveniently and fairly between themselves, be performed. The second Braintree case arose out of the first. In that case it was decided that a rate could not be made by the churchwardens alone met together without the parishioners, and without their having been summoned. But, in the course of his argument, Mr. Justice Tindal let fall a remark which seems to have served as a hint to the supporters of Church Rates to adopt another mode of conducting their case for the general establishment of the legality of rates obtained against the opinion of a majority of the parishioners. That remark was as follows:— We do not enter into the discussion whether a rate made by the churchwardens at the parish meeting, where the parishioners were then met, would have been valid or not; or how far such case might be analogous to a corporation aggregate, of which some members protesting and refusing to vote, as bound in law to do, are held to throw away their votes, and the act of the minority, in conformity to law, holds good without them. The church, it seems, had got out of repair, and a monition issued from an ecclesiastical court, requiring the churchwardens to call a vestry for the purpose of making a rate. Notice was given, a meeting held, a survey produced, and a rate of two shillings was proposed. An amendment was moved against Church Rates on principle, and refusing any vote for the purpose, and was put and carried. Upon this the churchwardens and minority made a rate, and proceeded upon it. It was decided in the Queen's Bench that this rate was good. This was the case of "Gosling V. Veley;" and the judgment given was confirmed on appeal to the Exchequer Chamber. It was thus an established point, unless the decision should be appealed against, that a minority could make a rate. It was true there was still a possibility of immense litigation. Indeed, the present state of the law of Church Rates looked like an ingenious mode of keeping alive the dying embers of sectarian rancour. It was a very great question whether they would ever hear of the existence of such a body as the Anti-State-Church Association, if there were no such law as that of Church Rates. Why, said the hon. Gentleman, the position into which these judicial legislators have brought the law by a series of decisions is almost worse than if we were to readopt the law as it existed in the early times of the Church. For, then, the only consequence of a refusal to pay Church Rates was interdict and excommunication, penalties which in these days, so far from possessing terror, would almost be regarded with indifference. A minority make a rate! Can it be possible that the right of the people to tax themselves in a free country can thus have been undermined? As Sir Fitzroy Kelly argued, it is ship-money over again. It was contended that the country was bound to provide the means of carrying on the war; and then it was sought to infer that (other means failing) a tax might be laid on without Parliament. Mr. St. John, the counsel for Hampden, admitted the general principle, but denied the inference. We are morally bound, at all events, to support the Crown by votes in supply; but what would be thought of an attempt in these days to dictate to the people what should be the amount proposed? A minority make a rate! We might as well let a minority of Judges make the law—in which case the late decision would be reversed. But, it is said, property is acquired subject to the liability, and therefore there is no grievance. If, however, the public evil of Church Rates be greater than the public advantage, this otherwise powerful argument loses much of weight and authority. But there is another mode of meeting this objection. If for good public ends it be desirable to tax particular individuals, and if the vendors of their property were already virtually taxed in the price of sale, why not levy the same amount as an education rate, or even a police rate—in short, for some purpose in the benefit of which all can participate? This argument, that property is acquired subject to Church Rates, is open to these objections. First, it is not strictly true. But, if true, it is not conclusive against the proposal he had to make; and then, still further, it might be said to prove too much. It is not true that property is acquired subject to the tax. It is only of late that it has been established that Church Rates are otherwise than contingent upon voluntary grants. In many towns they are systematically refused, and will probably never be granted again. In fact, they are a personal charge, not a charge on land. In theory every one is liable to pay Church Rate, or risk excommunication. And take the case of a man who has no property and begins to acquire it; why is he to be mulcted for the support of a Church whose tenets he disallows? But, admitting the liability of all property, he asked if no tax could be legitimately abolished which all were liable to pay? On this principle, there never could be a reduction of taxation at all. How could the expenses of prosecution have been transferred to the Consolidated Fund, if the principle thus contended for were fixed and irrefragable? How came a fourth of the tithe in Ireland to be given up? Simply because it was not expedient, for social reasons, to continue to raise the old amount of tithe; and that was precisely what he argued in the case of Church Rates. In short, the argument proved too much. It went the length of tying the hands of Parliament altogether wherever a fixed tax has existed for long periods of time. It has been said that Church Rates and tithes stand precisely upon the same footing; but see the difference between the cases. Tithe is a charge upon land—definite in amount, and not contingent upon the consent of the parishioners. Church Rates are perfectly uncertain, and are, as to amount at least, determined by the decision of a vestry. A nominal rate may, despite the recent judicial decisions, be proposed and carried; and though it may be argued that a succession of nominal rates would be as good as one adequate rate, this is not so in practice, it being understood that a nominal rate has been tried, and won't repay expenses of collection. Then in the case of tithe, the sanction is summary and effective. In the case of Church Rates, there is no adequate sanction. The question, therefore, is, whether is it worth while, by a pedantic adherence to a principle drawn from the analogy of tithes, to keep Churchmen and Dissenters in perpetual hot water for so insignificant an object as a nominal rate, contingent upon an inadequate sanction? It is difficult to a Dissenter to understand why Churchmen should not pay the expenses of a church where they alone assemble. Look at the very numerous churches in America, well kept, well ventilated, well warmed, and crowded, without a farthing levied for their support by any legislative enactment. And as to precedents on this subject, there is the precedent of the Act of 1833—the 3rd and 4th Geo. IV., sec. 63, which abo- lished the Irish Church Rate under the name of vestry cess. By this statute, the purposes for which vestry cess had been heretofore applied, were to be provided for out of the funds vested in the Commissioners under the Act. These funds were to be raised by an annual tax on the value of all ecclesiastical dignities and temporalities in Ireland, and from the actual revenues of certain archbishoprics and bishoprics which were to be abolished or united with others on their becoming void. Again, there is a parallel case to the proposal to exempt Dissenters from this payment, in Canada. By the old Canada Act a great principle is sanctioned, which is applicable to Dissenters in this country—a principle still in force—namely, that the lands of Protestants in Lower Canada are exempt from tithes, and even if they purchase lands from Roman Catholics subject to tithes, they are discharged from the liability to pay them. The legal liability was thrown to the winds, though, in the case of Church Rates here, the argument rests on that alone. It is right to remark that the charge for maintaining ecclesiastical fabrics was a general and universal charge, made so by law, when the law acknowledged the existence only of one body of religionists. This was the case when the Roman Catholic was the established religion, and it was the case when the Church of England became the only recognised Church. The law now recognises and acknowledges other religious bodies. Dissenters are under a sort of necessity of calling immediate attention to this evil, because it is likely to be a growing one. It appears that the existing liability is not all they have to complain of, because under the Act of Parliament for the extension of churches, new Church Rates may be levied, with regard to which, at all events, the plea can never be set up that property was acquired subject thereto, and that, therefore, no grievance can be reasonably pretended. But it is not the Dissenters only who complain. Churchmen who are rated in the first place to their parish church, and then taxed in the shape of pew-rents at the chapels which they find it most convenient to attend, are loud in their complaints of the state of the law; and, conceding, for argument's sake, that in this case there is no grievance, it is enough to say that they think it one; and under such circumstances, the law is not worth retaining. He need not dwell upon the unseemly controversies which took place, periodically, between clergymen and their flocks, as being alike unfavourable to religion and destructive of social harmony. No believer in the value and usefulness of the Establishment would desire to see the support of its worship contingent upon a successful vestry campaign—in which the professed softener of human asperities was liable to be goaded by irreverent conduct into hasty and intemperate remonstrance; or if he kept his temper, did so by the force of a philosophic patience hardly to be expected in one who felt a very lively and earnest interest in the faith and truths of a religion he was sent to inculcate. Why should Dissenters be called on to pay Church Rates? The hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford would argue that there was no burden in the case—that every citizen determined for himself whether the conditions of existence offered by the society to which he belonged were worthy of his acceptation, But if; this were so, and no law that was oppressive to individuals were to be abolished on this plea, why had they passed a law to permit Quakers to make affirmations instead of oaths? It might be urged by persons taking extreme views on such subjects that the public had a right to dictate the conditions of citizenship, and that those who disliked them had their remedy in leaving the country. But would the exercise of this right be politic? Was it wise to lose, for the sake of an observance proved to be of little value, the advantage of the society and intercourse of so moral and useful a body as the Quaker community? He contended against any act which enforced conditions of citizenship not essentially necessary to public happiness. Suppose a law existed imposing a tax to be applied to the dissemination of an erroneous system of natural philosophy (and it was begging the whole question to affirm that the Protestant episcopal system was perfect), would it be a sufficient answer to the taxpayer to say that he became a citizen at a time when the tax was in operation, and having given less for his estate by the fee-simple of the tax, he ought not to endeavour to remove from his shoulders a burden for which he had been already compensated in the price he gave? It might as well be argued that he bought his property with the chance of getting rid of the tax. But it was not only in the case of oaths that Quakers were exclusively favoured. They wore favoured in respect of this very charge of Church Hates. Any demand from a Quaker under 50l can be summarily recovered at a cost under 12s.; and in practice the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts was annihilated as regards this particular sect. What said the Report on Local Taxation, page 53? If a Quaker refuse to pay church rate, and if any churchwarden complain of such refusal, and the Quaker have had a reasonable warning of the complaint, one justice of the peace may summon him to appear before any two justices. These two justices may examine upon oath or affirmation, the truth and justice of such complaint, and ascertain what may be due from the Quaker, and may order payment of any sum not exceeding 50l., with costs and charges not exceeding 12s. By way of confirmation of this advantage, the 5th and 6th William IV., c. 74, prohibits the ecclesiastical court from entertaining "any suit, or proceeding, to recover from any Quaker any rate of or under the sum of 50l.; which very nearly amounts to an absolute exclusion of the jurisdiction of the spiritual courts." He wanted to know any good reason for limiting to Quakers the benefits arising out of this exemption from the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts. He next proposed to show how Dissenters themselves viewed the state of this church-rate question, and he would add a few examples of the working of the law. He would not trouble the House by reading at full length any of the letters he had received; but he could not resist giving extracts from two or three of the most important. He had a letter from a Quaker, who, after stating that his sect paid not only poor-rate but maintained its own poor, bitterly complained of a system by which he was periodically distrained upon. He said— The churchwardens take my furniture, generally nearly three times more value to me than the amount claimed. The expenses are extremely heavy: as most respectable auctioneers refuse to meddle with such doings, the job is given to parties who sell the goods at a sale-room, where the lowest class of furniture is sold. He adds— About two years ago I had a dmand for about 21l., and they took between 40l. and 50l. of furniture. About twelve months ago they took about 17l. worth for a demand of 6l. 5s. 6d.; and a few weeks since another seizure took place of furniture, worth to me about the same, for an amount very similar. Next came the Sudbury case, He would shortly add a list of cases of goods seized in excess of the value claimed: "Andrew Hunter, rate, 1l. 4s.; goods taken, calico (value), 4lz. 2s. l0¾d. John Mays, rate, 13s.; goods taken, butt and sole leather (value), 3l. 3d.. James Wright, rate, 2l. 7s.; goods taken, account books, &c. (value), 6l. 7s. J. R. Oxley, rate 1l.; goods taken, twelve canisters (value), 2l. 2s. Edward Wright, rate, 1l. 6s.; goods taken, 111¼1bs. of loaf sugar (value), 3l. Total amount of rates, 6l. 10s. 3d.; value of goods seized, 18l. 12s.d. Now, no doubt it would be urged that there was no grievance in these cases, because, had these men quietly paid the demands made upon them, they would have incurred no additional loss. But he asked if it was politic to keep up a standing grievance of this kind? Were the advantages arising from the amount contributed by the Dissenters worth the ill-feeling engendered in parishes, and the detestation unfortunately excited against the established religion? Besides the cases already mentioned he had others. One of the individuals already alluded to was recently mulcted of goods worth 57l. 7s. for a rate and costs amounting to 17l. 3s. Another of the name of Wright suffered seizure of goods to the extent of 24l., taken for sale for a rate of 3l. 12s. These were only a few cases, intended to show how far it was true that Dissenters preferred the forfeiture of their property to the endurance of a system which sought to coerce their consciences in the manner described. It was often said that great irregularities occurred from time to time in the application of the funds arising from local rates. But he thought he had never heard of a more flagrant case than that he was about to cite. It was possible it might not be entirely accurate; if so, the inaccuracy of his correspondent would come out in Committee. He had in his possession a letter from a person resident at Kew Green, Kew. What said the writer? He spoke of a churchwarden who held the office for twelve years, and during that period he thought proper to claim in his accounts, from Easter, 1847, to Easter, 1848, 39l., for a herdsman who was employed to manure the green and commonable land of three or four acres. To the pew-opener 20l. 16s. was charged. A charge was further made of six guineas, under pretext of assessing the parish to the assessed taxes. This was not all. There were more objectionable circumstances about the case, which he refrained from pursuing, without obtaining a Committee. That was an example of misappropriation of funds. He would next give a case of grievance arising out of the mode in which churchwardens obtained their offices in some instances; and the same example would serve to confirm the argument with respect to misappropriation of funds. And before he cited the example alluded to, he might observe, that it was in itself a fair argument against the present Church Rate system, that Dissenters are taxed at the suggestion and under the administration of officers, in the nomination of whom the clergy have the chief voice. The hon. Member read a letter which stated that the Church Rates of the borough of Congleton, containing 30,000 inhabitants, were levied, by custom, by six gentlemen calling themselves prepositi or posts, and that one half of this amount was not legally appropriated. It was no small part of the complaint of the Dissenters, that they were liable to be drawn into the ecclesiastical courts, the abuses of which were so notorious, and which no Government appeared to possess courage to subdue. What said the Report on Local Taxation on that head? His hon. Friend the Member for Kilmarnock had brought the state of these courts under the notice of the House, and hopes were held out that some legislation might be anticipated at no distant day. But no effective step had been taken. What said the Report on Local Taxation on the subject of these courts? No ex parte statement, but a deliberate expression of opinion on the part of a commission, upon whom devolved the duty of solemnly investigating the abuses of local finance, and suggesting remedies which, in their judgment, might be applicable? They said that the jurisdiction of the spiritual courts was most inefficient (p. 52). But Churchmen, too, had reason to complain of the state of the law. Take the case where a Low Church congregation were called on to support the teaching of a Tractarian minister, or vice versa; or take the case where a district church was established, and pew rents in existence. Was it no grievance to be compelled to pay twice over? Then, again, the difficulty, uncertainty, and complaints of the law (which were evidently parts of his complaint against Church Rates) were matters in which the Church was distinctly interested. When, too, the social aspect of the case was considered, and the position in which the clergyman was placed in reference to his flock, no sincere lover of his Church would maintain that the present system was one which it was very desirable to continue. Again, the Church had now but a precarious support. Its tenure of Church Rates in any given parish was a pure matter of good fortune. The Church might lose its advantage any day, by means of a trifling change in the tide of population. Whatever the mode of repairing the Church might be, at least it should be certain and uniform—not contingent and defeasible. Why not substitute pew-rents, or adopt some other plan unobjectionable in principle? Would not a regular church-repairing commission be better than the hap-hazard and irregular superintendence of above 20,000 churchwardens? Now, all this was ground for a Committee of Inquiry. Dissenters were entitled to immunity from the payment of Church Rates on the ground of what they did for education, morality, and order. Their 8,440 congregations contributed little less to the security of Government and the moral improvement of society than the 11,825 episcopal churches and chapels; and reputed as they were to constitute a body of 2,700,000', they were entitled to consideration on the part of that House. He might be asked what plans he had to offer in Committee? In reply he had to say that there were various methods which might be suggested from various quarters. First, there was simple abolition. But then there was a difficulty about that proposal. To offer it would be tantamount to saying he did not hope to legislate at all. Now he had hopes of legislating; and the first step to success in this respect was to exhibit a spirit of fairness and moderation. Besides, it was unnecessary to excite opposition by a proposal simply to abolish Church Rates—because modes might be suggested of different kinds by which the end desired might be attained compatibly with the support of the fabrics of churches. What was then to prevent the legalisation of pew rents? The pew-rent system worked well in many cases, and the objection to adopting them could only be formal and pedantic. But there was a fund on which Church Rates might be very fairly charged, namely, the fund originally created for them; and he thought the fund would be as well spent in supporting churches as the houses of the bishops. Of course he alluded to the fund which arose from the improved management of church leases. It might be said this fund was already applied, vestigia nulla retror-sum. Well, conceded—but still there were other plans. They might even adopt the plan of the Solicitor General, and exempt Dissenters. No doubt much might be said against that, but still a Committee was the very place for calmly discussing the suggestions offered from different quarters. It might be urged, why alter your Motion? Why not simply demand abolition? He had altered his Motion, because he thought he could not succeed in the naked proposal to abolish Church Rates. For the reasons, then, he had given—on account of the evils arising out of the payment of Church Rates—on account of the uncertainty and complexity of the law, and the consequent addition in the shape of annoyance to the mere pecuniary liability—on account of the heartburning and contention excited amongst sects, and the unseemly relative position in which clergymen were placed with respect to their flocks—with argument, precedent, and the authority of their greatest modern statesmen in his favour, he felt entitled to claim of the House that he had established sufficient ground for the Motion of which he had given notice. The hon. Member concluded by moving his Resolution.


said: Sir, I confess that when my hon. Friend last year was time after time unsuccessful in his attempt to bring on the question of Church Rates, I felt considerable disappointment, which was, I believe, shared not only by lion. Members within the walls of this House, but by a large class of persons out of doors. But, considering, as I do, the objections which exist against making questions of this kind mere annual Motions of course, and bearing in mind also how large has been the advance in public interest on matters of ecclesiastical reform, my disappointment has been very much diminished, for I think the interests of this question will have been better served by the omission of a year, than they would have been by a discussion last year, followed by another this. Last year we had heard nothing of the question which has since usurped the place of all other questions. This year the fears of Protestants are awakened by what they consider to be a common danger; and I think I see symptoms of a desire on the part of the more liberal party in the English Church to sink all minor differences, and make up existing quarrels, with a view to close their ranks against what they consider to be an insidious and a dangerous enemy. But I see another reason, and a more serious one, for judging that it is time this grievance should cease. The decision on the Gorham case, and the battle of surplices and sacraments which has been raging in a neighbouring parish, and more or less all over the country, has convinced most men that the Church of England contains within her bosom not merely two opposite parties, or rival factions, but two antagonist religions; and this renders the compulsion exercised to make Dissenters pay Church Rates all the more onerous, as they consider that in so doing they are contributing not only to services to which they object, but to the promulgation of doctrines which they abhor. Questions of this nature, involving as they do both political and religious considerations, ought to be examined both in their social and in their ecclesiastical bearings. I think the political reasons for a reconstruction of the present system are manifold; but perhaps there may be ecclesiastical grounds for desiring to retain it. I may be told by zealous Churchmen, that to alter the present system will endanger the security of the Church of England in its present form, and that this constitutes a reason for doing nothing. Without stopping to question whether the present position of the Church of England is so perfect as to warrant us in refusing to run any risk of altering it, let us consider for a moment whether altering the law of Church Rates would have the effect predicted. I think, if it had any effect, it must be either on the maintenance of the fabric, or on the maintenance of the endowment. And if we show that neither the one nor the other is dependent upon Church Rates, it seems to me that no one can object to the conclusion to which my hon. Friend wishes to conduct them. First, then, as to the maintenance of the fabric. Without compulsory Church Rates, would the fabric go to decay? It is computed that there are about 4,000,000 Dissenters in England and Wales, forming about 8,500 congregations; while there are about 12,000,000 of Episcopalians, with some 12,000 churches. It is to be remembered that the Dissenters belong almost exclusively to the middle and lower classes; while the whole aristocracy and great part of the wealth of the country belongs to members of the Church of England. Now the Dissenters—the poorer body—have within the last half century built, and do maintain at their own expense, between 8,000 and 9,000 Meeting Houses; and yet we are to be told that the Church, representing the richer communion, requires all the help of these very Dissenters to enable them to keep up their own churches, these churches having mostly been built without expense to their present occupants in former ages. But there is another view of this particular part of the subject, and it is this: It is not proposed to make contributions towards the repairs of churches illegal—it is only proposed to make them not compulsory. Now, we must bear in mind, first, that Church Rates are not the only fund which exist for the repair of churches, for there are very considerable endowments for this express purpose; secondly, that the Dissenting body, consisting principally of the lower-middle and lower classes, probably pay less than in the proportion which their numbers bear to the whole community; and, thirdly, that the amount which is usually levied by Church Rate contains many items which would not be allowed if the rate were legally contested. And, considering all these things, I think the sum legally chargeable upon Dissenters does not amount to more than one-sixth of the whole amount annually levied; and this deficiency is to be fatal to the security of the fabric. But I shall be told, "Oh, but if you make it voluntary, many Churchmen will refuse to contribute." Now, I don't say that I would make Church Rates voluntary on the pewholders; but even granting this, what a satire it is on the Church of England, and how much does it aggravate the hardship of forcing Dissenters to pay Church Rates, that the very persons who use the churches should have so little love to the services performed there, that they require legal compulsion to induce them to discharge the necessary expenses for those services. Well then, Sir, I confess that I do not see any strong reason to think that the very abolition of compulsory Church Rates will very much endanger the fabrics of churches. But if a middle course were adopted, such as has been had recourse to in some parishes where the churchwardens had the wonderfully bad taste to prefer peace and a voluntary assessment of the seatholders to war and a Church Rate—if a small sum were made legally leviable upon the holders of seats, any risk to the fabric would be indefinitely diminished; besides which, there are many men who, from innumerable motives, would contribute voluntarily, though resisting compulsion. Let us, then, look at the other supposed danger—danger to the sys- tem of tithe. The analogy between tithe and Church Rate, so specious at first sight, will be found on examination utterly to fail. Tithe is nothing more nor less than a Parliamentary rent-charge, never changing except with the price of wheat. Church Rate is a variable impost, dependent for its amount on the state of the fabric—on the whims of a churchwarden—on the tastes of an incumbent—on the will of a rural dean—and, for its practical existence, on the vote of a vestry, consisting of ratepayers who vary from year to year. Tithes pass from hand to hand, like other property—the only way in which Church Rates are dealt with is by mortgaging them, and this constitutes one of the principal grievances of populous parishes. St. Marylebone, for example, paid 50,000l. in Church Rates between the years 1837 and 1842; but this is done only by a particular Act of Parliament, and is, I believe, not in general practicable. Tithes are payable to laymen, charities, corporations, as well as to incumbents. Church Rates are payable to the churchwarden alone. Tithes imply no prearranged compact of payment on the one side, or duties on the other; for it continually happens that the person who does the parochial duty does not take the tithe, and, of course, as often, that the person who takes the tithe does not do the duty; and even when the incumbent is titheowner, he is forced to do the duty, not because he takes the tithe but because he has taken orders. But Church Rates imply by their very nature some interest on the part of the person who pays them in the fabric to the repair of which he contributes. If he is to pay the rates, let him have the opportunity of profiting by the services. But ii' by the growth of population, or the carelessness of past generations, he is deprived of the boon of making use of the church, it appears to me that the compact is broken, and the feeling of wrong which attaches to a payment thus made, in my mind is productive of evil consequences far outweighing any trifling advantage to be derived from the payment itself. It is, I believe, the law, that a landlord, not bound to rebuild premises which have been burnt down, may still demand rent for the remainder of the term, although I should not think any hon. Member of this House would think it exactly consistent with honesty to avail himself of such a power; but it seems to me to be just as fair to take rent for a house which has been burnt down, as to exact rates for the repair of a church from which the payer is practically excluded; and to say that the security of Church property depends on a law like this, is about as reasonable as to say that the security of house property depends on a practice like the other. Sir, I am aware that an argument founded on the breach of a presumed contract cannot be pressed in favour of exempting Dissenters as such from Church Rates. But I have every reason for pressing it in the case of Churchmen. And if it be necessary to quote a high Church authority for an opinion of the injustice of the present state of the law of Church Rates, I can do so; and I can go further, for I can show that this high Church authority, having stated a case exactly and in all points analogous to the case of the Dissenter who is forced to pay Church Rates, expresses an opinion that this state of things constitutes a grievance—an opinion in which I most heartily concur. The authority to which I refer is the Government Report of the Subdivision of Parishes Commissioners, and among the names appended to this report I find that of the noble Lord the Member for Bath—who, though denounced by one section of persons calling themselves Churchmen, deserves, I think, the respect and esteem of all those who arc interested in the spiritual welfare of the country—the names of Dr. Hook, Dr. Dale, Mr. Champneys, and of Mr. Robert Seeley; and what say these Commissioners? "In our opinion," say they, "the present state of the law of Church Rates is obscure, vague, defective, and unjust;" and they go on to say, that it has been urgently represented to the Commissioners—and the whole tenor of the report leads to the conclusion that they agree in the suggestion— That the law in its present state inflicts a serious hardship on the owners of property, in distinct and separate parishes and district parishes, by compelling them for twenty years not only to provide for the expenses of their own church, but to contribute towards repairing the mother church. Now, this is the case of the Dissenters, in every particular except one, that both the rates are compulsory, whereas no Dissenter is compelled by anything except feeling to contribute to the repair of his own meeting-house. But as if to clinch the matter, the Commissioners go on:— In the case of a chapelry district, cut off from a distinct and separate or district parish, the grievance is still greater; for although the inhabitants, during that period of time, pay a double rate, namely, to the mother church and to the distinct and separate or district parish church, they have generally to provide for the repairs of their own chapel also, by voluntary contributions. And now let me ask, if it be a hardship for a Churchman in a chapelry, who has to contribute voluntarily to the repair of his chapel, also to have to contribute by compulsion to the repair of the parochial and district churches, why is it not a still greater hardship for his next-door neighbour, being a Dissenter, having to contribute voluntarily to the repair of his chapel, also to have to contribute by compulsion to those same parochial and district churches? Sir, after this avowal of opinion, I think the question might safely be left in the hands of these Commissioners, if they would but be true to the principles they have laid down in their report. They have not, it is true, called the compulsory Church Rate an act of persecution; but they have defined a similar tax to be a grievance, and a grievance still greater than one which they denounce as a serious hardship. What the distinction is between a grievance greater than a hardship, itself serious and a religious persecution, I may leave for Mr. Seeley to discuss with the editor of the Nonconformist. We have heard much of late of personal and religious liberty. I will not attempt to add-my definition either of the one or of the other to those numerous and, as I think, mostly incorrect definitions which have been given here and elsewhere. I will simply observe that I think the methods in which the State may influence the conduct of individuals in religious matters is twofold—by compelling to do what they think wrong, and prohibiting them from doing what they think right. The first must he always persecution, if it be only sprinkling incense on the altar of Jupiter. As to the second, I am not so clear, for if the State is not to retain some control, I don't see how she is to prevent Roman Catholic processions in the streets of London, or suttees on the Ganges. Whether the compulsory payment of money for a purpose presumed, is exactly of a similar nature with the compulsory performance of an order manifestly religious, I will not attempt to determine; but the difference can be but slight. Sir, it matters comparatively little whether this question be set at rest this year or next, in this or a subsequent Parliament. What is really of consequence is, that the principles of religious liberty should be clearly and distinctly understood by that great community which has sent us here to represent them; for, when that is the case, I have the fullest confidence that those principles will be boldly carried out, and successfully maintained.


I don't wish, on this occasion, to follow the hon. Gentlemen who have moved and seconded this Motion, into the various arguments they have used in reference to Church Rates; if I were to do so, too, I fear I should differ with them on some points to which they have referred, and in the conclusion at which they have arrived. It does seem to me, however, after the statements and the references they have made, and the Reports of the several Commissions, that it is desirable there should be some attempt made to settle this question of Church Rates; and that, if they should not be able to effect that object, they, at all events, should endeavour to make some improvement in the law. Holding these opinions, therefore, and having been myself a party to one or two attempts to settle this question, but without success, I think the proposal now made is one which will lead to a practical benefit, and to which I willingly give my consent.


said, that while the House was engaged upon this question, he wished to call the noble Lord's attention to the case of the Annuity Tax now raised in Edinburgh. He had repeatedly called attention to this tax before, the collection of which had led to acts of violence requiring the military to he called in to suppress them, because the feeling of the community was opposed to the continuance of the tax. He had hoped, from the promise he had received last year, that the noble Lord would have introduced a Bill on the subject. Ireland, also, was subject to a tax called Ministers' Money, amounting to about 18,000l. a year; and nearly the same amount was raised in Scotland, but Edinburgh and his own borough (Montrose) were the only towns that contributed to the tax in Scotland. This tax was very different from Church Rates in England, because Church Rates were in some sense voluntary; but this Annuity Tax was compulsory, and it was levied under an Act of Charles H. It was exacted only from the royalty of Edinburgh, and did not extend to the rest of the city. He was sure that the welfare of the Church greatly depended upon the speedy settlement of this irritating question.


said, that it seemed to him very practicable to introduce a measure to put an end to Ministers' Money; but with regard to the Annuity Tax, he had taken every means that he thought likely to bring about an arrangement of that subject, but hitherto those means had failed.


said, that the objection which he might feel even to a Committee on this subject, as tending to unsettle the question, was a very different objection from that which he should have felt had a Resolution been proposed pledging the House to a particular course of action in the matter. It was not necessary for him to advert in detail to the three attempts which had been made in that House to settle the question of Church Rates, inasmuch as the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Trelawny), although he had referred to them, did not at present propose to revive any of them. With respect to the statement, that 600,000 persons had petitioned for the repeal of these taxes, he apprehended that, if the fact of petitioning against a tax would ensure its repeal, there were few taxes for the repeal of which three times 600,000 signatures could not be easily obtained. The hon. Member for Colchester said that these 600,000 formed but a very small portion of the persons affected by the grievance; at first, he said that the Dissenters were one-third of the population of England, and afterwards that they were one-fourth; but he admitted that, in consequence of their being chiefly of the middle classes, their contributions to the Church Rate did not amount to more than one-sixth of the whole sum levied. But he (Sir R. Inglis) had always understood that, if the principle of a tax were unjust, the number of those upon whom it pressed was not a thing to be taken into consideration. Now, be contended that there was no property in England which had not been bought and sold subject to this burden; and the present holders of the property could not fairly claim to be exempted from its payment. The hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) had, during the debate upon the Papal Aggression, asked if the noble Lord (Lord John Russell) thought that the Church which he desired to protect was a tolerant Church—"the most tolerant of Churches"—when forty chairs had been taken from a Friends' meeting-house in the City, and sold for Church Rates. Now, what were the facts of that case? The parish to which the hon. Member referred was that of Bishops gate; the tithes of that parish, amounting to 2s. 9d. in the pound, would have raised in the aggregate a sum of between 5,000l. and 6,000l. a year. Not only, however, was that sum never raised, hut there never was any intention of raising it; and, in 1825, an Act of Parliament was passed, by which the tithes were extinguished for ever in respect of that parish, and a sum had since been raised by rate, in respect of tithes and Church Rate, and for every parochial object and purpose, amounting in the aggregate to 2,500l. a year, subject to certain deductions; for instance, a sum of 300l. for the service of one church, 150l. for another, and 100l. for a third; and for all the necessary expenses attendant upon the performance of Divine service. He believed that every one understood the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright) to allege, as the grievance complained of, that it was at the meeting-house, the place of worship of the Friends, upon which the rate was levied, and from which the chairs were carried off. Now, in fact, the rate was not levied upon the meeting-house at all, hut upon the adjacent dwelling-house, and the amount of it was never, in any any one year, more than 2l. 5s., while it had been as low as 1l. 14s. 9d.; that was the sum the payment of which was resisted by the wealthy and eminent body of which the hon. Member was an ornament. It should be remembered that the tax did not, as a capitation tax, attach to any individuals, or to any place of worship, but to particular individuals in respect to particular property, and therefore could not be regarded as a personal grievance; and yet this wealthy body had thus rendered necessary this unseemly scene to take place to liberate themselves and their consciences, as they said, from such a payment as this. He regretted that the noble Lord had thought it necessary to accede to the Motion of the hon. Member for Tavistock (Mr. Trelawny); had the Motion embraced a Resolution, he (Sir R. Inglis) should have opposed it. He thought that such a Committee as that contemplated should only have been granted to put an end to some uncertainty in the law upon the subject; but was the law doubtful—would the Attorney General, the Solicitor General, or the Master of the Rolls, say that the law was doubtful after the decision in the Braintree case? He believed that, by the decision of the highest Court in that case, there was now no point of law better established than the legal existence of Church Rates as applicable to the repair of the parish church, its fabric and services. Every house in the kingdom had been bought or sold for so much less, in consequence of its being liable to Church Rates, which only differed from the ancient system of tithes, inasmuch as the tithe was a fixed proportion of the produce, whereas the Church Rate varied in amount according to the particular circumstances of each case. He thought that the unsettlement of the question, by having a Parliamentary Committee, was, under any circumstances, undesirable. If the law were doubtful, a measure should be introduced to declare the law, if the Government felt sufficiently strong in their legal authorities; or to alter it, if it were against their preconceived notions. But when the highest tribunal in the country had declared the law to be clear, he could not understand why there should be a roving Commission or a sedentary Committee, to which should gravitate all the plans of the Dissenters for the removal of that which was a positive obligation upon them, not as Dissenters, but as holders of property. No man was taxed either to tithe or Church Rate as a Churchman or a Dissenter, but as a holder of particular property—in respect of that property, and not as an individual. As the Motion of the hon. Member for Tavistock did not, however, pledge the House to a particular course of action—as it was not a measure transferring to the Consolidated Fund, or to the episcopal or clerical revenues, the burden now appropriated to Church Rates, he felt less objection to it than he would otherwise have entertained; and he would only express his earnest hope that the Government would take care, in the constitution of the Committee, that it should be fair and impartial.


said, that had he known it was the intention of the hon. Baronet (Sir R. H. Inglis) to refer to the statement made by him (Mr. Bright) on a previous occasion, he would have been prepared to enter into the more precise details of that particular case. However, he should dispute altogether the view of the hon. Baronet, that he had no right to bring forward that case in a discussion on another subject. He thought he had a perfect right, inasmuch as whilst they were discussing the aggression of one Church, it might be as well to call attention to the aggressions of another. The hon. Baronet had stated that the chairs and tables to which he (Mr. Bright) had on a former occasion alluded, were not, taken from the meeting-house, but from the premises. But that made no difference whatever, whether taken from the place of worship or from any of the committee-rooms adjoining, the crime of sacrilege not being understood or admitted by the Society of Friends. However, he asked the hon. Baronet if he could look on the question from any other point of view than that in which it was usual for him to regard it; and to say whether such a state of things should be tolerated? On one side of the street there was a large church frequented by a congregation of the Church of England persuasion; and on the other side of the street there was a place of worship built by the voluntary contributions of a sect which professed in the main the very same religious doctrines preached and believed in by the congregation assembled in the Church of England edifice. In that church the clergyman preached to his congregation; whilst in the other house of worship there was no minister of any order, no minister paid for services rendered. They both lived in a country the constitution of which professed to have done long ago with pains, penalties, and persecutions on the ground of religious difference. Yet, by authority of an Act of Parliament, the minister of the Established Church—legally, of course—by his agents or proxies, entered the premises of the meeting-house and took, not, 2l. 5s.—though the hon. Baronet knew very well that to take 2½d. would he as much an injustice as to take 2l. 5s.—but something like 40 articles of furniture belonging to those premises. These articles were sold by an auctioneer; picked up, in in all probability, by some friends of the auctioneer—he knew nothing of the particular circumstances, but that was generally the case in the country—and the proceeds were put into the sack in which the Church Rate and tithes were deposited. He admitted that the clergyman, of whose excellence or otherwise he knew nothing whatever, was legally empowered, and that he had the sanction of an Act of Parliament; but if that Act had received the assent of every Legislature in Europe, the seizure of these articles would not be the less an unjustifiable aggression. The hon. Baronet might get up and talk these things at Oxford, where he believed almost anything in the direction of persecution would go down—but they would not go down here or in the country; and no sophistry about houses being bought and sold subject to Church Rate would ever induce the people to think that the infliction of Church Rate should he permitted, or that it was a benefit even to the Church itself. The hon. Baronet had stated that the law had settled the question; but results demonstrated the contrary, as he believed the most eminent lawyers and judges in the land were opposed in their decisions on the question. Why, the fact as contended for by the hon. Baronet, that a parish minority, consisting of the clerk, the sexton, the grave-digger, and the bell-ringer, meeting together, can do that in a parish which a minority of that House cannot do for the country, was an overturning of every thing which they held to he valuable under the constitution of this kingdom. In his opinion, the Church Rate law was like martial law, as explained by the Duke of Wellington the other night, no law at all. It was impossible by an expenditure of less than some 2,000l. to go through the quagmire of the Ecclesiastical Court; but in the end, it fell out that the suit was generally dropped for want of funds. He was convinced there were no two lawyers in the kingdom would give the same opinion in reference to Church Rate law. This might be a reason for the appointment of the Committee, hut he was not very sanguine that this Committee would accomplish all that was required of it; that however, was no reason why it should not be appointed. He thought it would be better for all parties if the Rate did not exist at all; and he did not think the hon. Baronet (Sir R. H. Inglis), warm Church advocate as he was, believed the Church ever gained by the system. All religious and conscientious Churchmen—the really pious men who wanted to live in harmony with their neighbours, loving their own faith, and desiring that every one else should follow his faith, and that all should observe the holy precepts set forth for us in the New Testament—such Churchmen, who might be counted by thousands in the Church, were in favour of the abolition of the Rate. Why not, therefore, get rid of it? But there was a class of Churchmen who did not want to get rid of it—the political Churchmen, who were of no use to the Church beyond agitating in its name and getting up majorities in its favour in that House. But the hon. Baronet should turn from these men to the really pious and conscientious members of the Church, who wished to see the question settled for ever. The question was one of only some 250,000l. a year. In Manchester no Church Rate had been collected for the last fifteen years. On one occasion the tax was decided against by a majority of one. The tax was next refused by a majority of 1,100; and thirdly, it was refused unanimously on a show of hands, since when there had been no Church Rate. There was what was called an "optional" rate, that was, those paid who liked, arid those refused who did not. The great hulk did not like. Now he asked the hon. Baronet if he thought it advisable that for the last fifteen years there should have been an annual contest waged on the question? Was it not better that it should have been dropped, taking the tax only from those who were willing to pay it, particularly when the Church was nothing the worse? In the parish in which he (Mr. Bright) resided, there were some 70,000 or 80,000 persons, with, he believed, sixty places of dissenting worship; yet all these persons were expected to pay tax to one parish church. He believed some 700l. annually used to be collected, and eaten and drunk, though he never could understand that the Church was the better for it. The result of the opposition to the rate, was, that at length the expenditure fell to 150l. a year, though at the last contest, about eleven years ago, a great struggle was made, and as much money was spent in the contest as would, if placed at interest, produce 150l. a year for ever. Nothing had produced so much animosity as these contests about Church Rates, promoted as they were by the present vicar. He wished to know if it were not possible to adopt the Manchester system throughout England? In the last Session the hon. and learned Solicitor General suggested some compromise by which Dissenters would be exempted from the rate, which should be only collected from members of the Establishment; and his (Mr. Bright's) opinion was, that if these rates were not collectible by law, the congregations would provide, by their own contributions, for the maintenance of their own edifices. Did they not see notices of sermons for bible societies and schools every day? And would it not be possible for a zealous, honest, and pious minister, by arrangement with his congregation, to provide as much as would be necessary for maintaining the Church, without coming to the Dissenters? The congregation of the Rev. Mr. Russell was more numerous than that which resorted to the meeting-house of the Society of Friends at the opposite side of the street; and, therefore, it was nothing short of a scandal to call on the latter to maintain the establishment of the former. Were he (Mr. Bright) the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir R. H. Inglis), instead of defending such practices, he would endeavour to find out if there were not sufficient liberality and conscientiousness amongst Churchmen to induce them to maintain their places of worship without calling on the Dissenters to assist them, particularly when these places of worship were found them by the State, and when the Dissenters erected their own places of worship by voluntary contributions. If the hon. Baronet would only do that, be would be likely to sweep away one of the evils that was undermining the Church Establishment in the mind of the people, and strengthening the resolution of most of them to have nothing to do with the Establishment, but rather attach themselves to the Nonconformist body. These were troublesome times for the Church, as speeches and other significant signs demonstrated; and therefore he advised the hon. Baronet to "set his house in order." In the event of anything occurring it would be better to be prepared to meet it than to be overpowered by the damaging lumber of the Church Rates; and he hoped the Committee would, therefore, sift the question, and that when the Report should be brought in, the noble Lord at the head of the Ministry would not allow it to be shelved till he came into office again, in the next reign of the Whigs. Indeed, whatever Minister might be in power he would find it beneficial to the interests of the Church to make a clean sweep of all matters which were not alone unjust towards the Dissenters, but materially injurious to the Church itself.


did not mean to have troubled the House with any remarks upon this occasion; but after what had fallen from his hon. Friend the Member for the University of Oxford (Sir R. H. Inglis), and the hon. Member for Manchester (Mr. Bright), he must express the regret with which he heard the former hon. Member express so much dismay at the question of Church Rates being inquired into. The hon. Baronet was far too learned in the history of the Church not to know that the laws that affect Church Rates were laws passed at a time when the constitution of England was very different from what it is now. The law was then cognisant of nobody but Churchmen: and by imposing a Church Rate it only imposed on every man the duty of helping himself to worship God, in the only way in which the State thought it conceivable for him to worship God. That was no longer the case now; and therefore, without wishing, as the hon. Member for Manchester had said, to make a clean sweep of the matter, he thought it very advisable and very desirable that, when other reforms were entered into, and other inquiries were made, Church Rates should not be considered to be the immutable foundations of the faith of the Church of England. On the other hand, the discussion of that night had shown the great difficulty of the question; for, though it was desirable that the question should be investigated, he, as a Churchman, did not think that a Committee of that House was likely to be most favourable, or the best adapted machinery to investigate any question relating to the ecclesiastical affairs of his own denomination, or even those of other denominations; for all denominations being represented in that House made it a machine equally unfit to legislate for any. Still, on the broad principle of Church Rates not being the immutable foundation of the faith of the Church of England, he could not second the dread of the hon. Member for the University of Oxford. The plan of a voluntary rate which had been adopted in Manchester, and that of a rate levied only upon Churchmen, which the hon. and learned Solicitor General advocated last year, had, however, one great and fatal objection—that they made religious indifferentism and dissent valuable to a man; they would make it worth so much to him not to be a Churchman. Now he was sure that earnest Dissenters would not wish that people should come to them on a pounds, shillings, and pence calculation, which must be the result of a voluntary rate, or of the rate proposed last year, to be levied on Churchmen alone. How the case was to be met was another question. He had somewhere read a description of a scheme which existed in one or two of the States of America; it had very broad and patent advantages on the face of it; whether or not it was applicable to English society he did not know; but when other schemes were mentioned, he might be excused alluding to it. A general rate was imposed rateably according to the amount of property; then, in a schedule which was sent round to each ratepayer, he was bound to enter himself of some denomination or other, and his money was handed over to the hierarchy or governing body of his denomination, to spend as they thought best for the faith to which he belonged. In that way there was no grievance to any man's conscience, for no man could confess that he was not desirous to worship God according to the doctrines he professed. There was no pecuniary advantage to any denomination over another, and he conceived that some similar plan might be undertaken in this country. He warned the House that the Church of England, though desirous of fair play towards every citizen of the State not belonging to it, and every day more willing to tolerate liberty of conscience, did claim that liberty of conscience to be afforded to herself, of which he was sorry to say she had not as much as she bad a right to, and of which she had met very little from that House, which was the only practical legislature for religious or civil matters.


said, he should support the Motion of the hon. Member for Tavistock. He did not think the ground taken by the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford was at all tenable; for if it was a good argument that the Church Rate, being a tax on property for a long time, and property having been bought subject to it, ought not to be repealed, what right had the Chancellor of the Exchequer to repeal the window duties? If the hon. Baronet's argument was good, they could not repeal anything.


was gratified that the Motion for a Committee was granted by the Government. The settlement of the question would be a great boon to society, for there was no more fertile source of irritation than the question of Church Rates. The notice of a contested rate was a notice of a parish war, and led to the greatest heartburnings and irritation in parishes. It had been said that the Dissenter bought his house or land subject to Church Rate. It was, forgotten, however, that it required the vote of a majority in vestry to make a rate. True, if no rate was made, the churchwardens might make a rate; but if the majority chose to make ever so small a rate, no Court would interfere, so that, in effect, the rate might be really and effectually evaded. He did not think that the rate, even if it could be raised, was worth the contest. Our churches would be better repaired if the whole responsibility of maintaining them was thrown on Churchmen themselves. Why was it that the Dissenters contributed liberally to the repairs of their chapels, while from Churchmen you could often get nothing? It was because individuals would never do for themselves what the State undertook to do for them. He quite agreed with the hon. Member for Manchester in thinking that the enforcement of these rates was prejudicial to the Church itself; and he believed that the Church was not rendered the more wealthy by it. He knew many cases where clergymen, desirous of living on terms with their parishioners, allowed their churches to go out of repair rather than risk a contest by asking for a Rate. He would confidently and fearlessly leave the maintenance and repair of the churches to those who used them; but he believed that many Dissenters would, out of pure goodwill, assist by voluntary contributions.


suggested that the city of Edinburgh should be included in the Motion. In that city the rate was charged on a large majority of the population who were driven out of the Established Church, and he was quite sure that they ought to receive the sympathy of that House.


said, he could not agree to the suggestion that these two subjects should be referred to one Committee. The two subjects were not of the same nature, the Church Rate having been imposed for the purpose of keeping the churches in repair; whereas, the Annuity Tax in Edinburgh and Montrose was the means by which their ancestors paid the salaries of the clergy. A considerable correspondence had taken place on the subject, and a friend of his had been sent down to Edinburgh to negotiate between the parties on the subject of this tax, These negotiations had not been successful; but the Government had exerted their authority to bring them to a favourable issue, and he was not without hope that the parties might be yet brought to agree amongst themselves.

Select Committee appointed.