HC Deb 27 March 1854 vol 131 cc1381-6

Order for Committee read.


said, he had given notice of an Amendment to limit the duration of the Commission for one year; he had been informed that the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) was disposed to accede to that Amendment, or, at all events, to some limit other than that adopted in the Bill; and if the noble Lord would give him some assurance to that effect, he would not move his Amendment, but otherwise be should press it to a division.


said, the Bill, as it now stood, was to continue the Commission for ten years. A suggestion had been made for the consolidation of the laws under which the Board acted and for various other changes. These matters certainly deserved consideration; but they required considerable time for their settlement. He had no objection to limit the duration of the time to two years. To take less than that would be trifling with the House, because it would be quite impossible that either himself or any other person in his position would be able to say that the proposed arrangements could be carried into effect in less time.


said, he thought the continuance of the Commission ought to be limited to one year. It was well known that the Acts which they had to carry out were of a most complicated structure. An attempt had already been made to consolidate them; but it only made matters worse, for when the Bill was framed, it was found to be of such a magnitude that it was thought proper not to proceed with it. There was, however, no need for a consolidation, or for the continuance of the Commission beyond a very limited period; because there was an Act now in force, the 6th and 7th Victoria, commonly called Sir Robert Peel's Act, which might be made available for every purpose. That Act contained twenty-seven clauses, under the provisions of which nearly 250 parishes had been constituted. This Act had been of the greatest possible benefit to the Church; it was of a most practical nature, and was conceived by a master spirit. If it had proved effectual for the constitution of 250 parishes, there was no reason why it should not constitute 2,000 if they were needed, for a very simple extension of its powers would give all the facilities necessary for a further division of parishes throughout the United Kingdom. Another reason why the Commission ought not to be continued for the time proposed by the Government was, that a considerable body of evidence had been taken by the Commissioners for the division of parishes, which would shortly be before the House, and to which he intended to call attention. Most of this evidence had been given by persons acquainted with the Church Building Acts, and he believed that when this evidence came to be considered, it would be found that there was no necessity for making the change now proposed. He had given notice of a Bill, which he hoped to be able to introduce after Easter, combining the principles he had thus briefly adverted to; and when he explained the provisions of the measure, he thought it would be found that the division of parishes might be effectually carried out by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners without the slightest difficulty, and without a multiplicity and complexity of Boards. Under these circumstances, if the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Hadfield) went to a division upon the Motion for limiting the duration of the Commission to one year, he should be inclined to support him.


said, that Sir Robert Peel's Act was a most valuable one, but the great fault of it was, that it provided no means for the building of the Church after the endowment. If this Act were extended, and it was permitted by means of seat-rents to raise funds for the building of churches, the Act would at once become a very valuable one.


said, that, with respect to the consolidation of these Acts, he had from his own experience found it was very difficult to reconcile them, and they were about as disgraceful a specimen of ecclesiastical legislation as the enemies of the Church could desire. He considered that these were reasons why the proposition of the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston) to limit the Bill to two years should be accepted; to continue the Acts for ten years would be far too long.

House in Committee.

Clause 1. Proposed to fill the blank with the words "until the 20th of July, 1856."


said, he had given notice of his intention to move that the duration of the Act be limited from its passing to one year and to the end of the then next Session of Parliament. This Bill was a continuance of a series of Acts, eighteen in number, the commencement of which was thirty-six years ago, and the whole business of which originated in two grants, one of 1,000,000l. and the other of 500,000l., for the purpose of building churches. From 1801 to 1831, a period of thirty years, 500 churches had been built, at the expense of 3,000,000l., of which the Government contributed 1,152,000l. But what happened in the next twenty years, when there was freedom to build churches which there was not before—from 1831 to 1851? Why, that 2,029 churches were built, chiefly by voluntary subscriptions. Here was a testimony to the efficacy of the voluntary principle. The cost of these 2,029 churches had been 6,087,000l., of which only 511,000l. was contributed by the Exchequer, so that 5,576,000l. had been contributed voluntarily. And what had been the state of things during this time? Why, so full of complication were the Statutes that no man would undertake to arrange them. Persons in the Church were anxious that the duties of this Commission should be undertaken by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. The expense of it was 10,000l. a year, while the whole of the sum granted for the building of churches had been long ago expended. He thought, under these circumstances, he was justified in asserting that these Acts ought to be put an end to.


said, he should vote for this proposition. It had been said on both sides of the House that the Church Building Acts were totally inconsistent with each other, and he would satisfy the Committee that on this ground there was a necessity for some alteration. The Commissioners had power to form ecclesiastical districts and to consolidate chapelries. As regards the formation of ecclesiastical districts, they had power to constitute a portion of a parish into a district, which district was exempt at the end of twenty years from all further rates to the mother church; but a consolidated chapelry which was formed out of two parishes was treated in a different manner. But the Commissioners had no power to exempt, at the end of twenty years, a consolidated chapelry from the compulsory payment of rates to the mother church. These things were perfectly inconsistent, and therefore he should vote for continuing the Acts for the shortest possible time.


said, that his hon. Friend who made this Motion had not adverted to the difference between what he proposed and what he (Lord Palmerston) proposed. With regard to the duration of a Commission of this sort, it was of great importance, not merely to the functions of the Commission, but to the interests of the public, that it should be definite, and that everybody should know when its functions should cease. Therefore he had proposed that it should continue till the 20th of July, 1856. But his hon. Friend proposed that it should be continued for one year from the passing of the Continuance Act, and to the end of the then next Session of Parliament. Let the House observe that one year from any part of this Session would be the middle of the next Session. It would then continue to the end of 1856; and if it happened that Parliament should sit till September or October, the Commission would be continued for two or three months longer than he (Lord Palmerston) proposed. He was sure his hon. Friend would not grudge him this trifling matter, which was taking two or three months more that he did not wish to give. He thought his demands exorbitant, and he had better be content with the two years certain that he (Lord Palmerston) was willing to give.


said, he wished to remind the Committee that this Church Building Commission was constituted to administer certain funds that were granted by Act of Parliament to extend and improve the parochial system. In 1848 he was a member of a Committee appointed to inquire into the working of the Ecclesiastical Commission, and on that occasion the secretary stated that the Acts were so complicated, that scarcely even a professional man could understand them; that all the funds now in the hands of this Commission were 12,000l., and a further sum owing to them of 17,000l.; and that the annual expense of the establishment was 5,000l. But along with this Church Building Commission there were two other Commissions sitting at the same time—namely, the Ecclesiastical Commission and the Queen Anne's Bounty Board. The Ecclesiastical Commission was chiefly composed of ex-officio members drawn from the Episcopal Bench, and Queen Anne's Bounty Board was formed partly of the same men. These three Boards were, indeed, composed practically of the same members, and it was brought out that they met frequently on the same day, and to administrate nearly the same business at an expense of 15,000l. a year. He contended, therefore, that instead of haying three separate Boards, with a salary amounting, for the three, to 15,000l. a year, it would be better to have one lay Board of practical men, to whom a salary might be given of 5,000l. a year, and thus 10,000l. a year would be saved to the country, and the business would be much more efficiently performed. He could not think what the objection to this course could be, inasmuch as all the functions now vested in the Commissioners might be transferred to the lay Board which he recommended. He thought, therefore, under the circumstances, that the best course would be to agree to the continuance of this Bill until July, 1855, and, in the meantime, for Government to introduce a measure to throw all the business into the hands of a lay Board.

Question put, "That the blank be filled with the words, until the 20th day of July, 1856.'"

The Committee divided:—Ayes 153; Noes 49: Majority 104.

Clause agreed to. House resumed. Bill reported.