HC Deb 01 August 1855 vol 139 cc1611-9

[Progress, 25th July.] Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.

Clause 2 (On representation of inhabitants of any small parish that their benefice might be advantageously united, Bishop of the Diocese shall inquire and may certify to Church Building Commissioners.

Amendment proposed, in page 2, line 37, to leave out the words "Her Majesty's Commissioners for Building New Churches," and to insert the words "the Parishes Commissioners."

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause."


said, he thought the Church Building Commissioners were better for the purpose in view than the body proposed to be constituted by the Bill. He considered, therefore, that it would be better for the present to leave the matter in the hands of the Church Building Commissioners, and not create a new body on the eve of such a change, as was inevitable, in the Church Building Commission.


said, his right hon. Friend had lost sight of the real facts of the case. The reason why the power was given to the parishes Commissioners was, that the Church Building Commission was about to expire in twelve months from that time.


said, the Bill was prepared by the Commission, and it was proposed last year to invest the powers in the Church Building Commissioners. But the House had subsequently decided to limit the existence of that Commission to two years, which would expire on the 26th of next July. He put it to the Committee, therefore, whether it would be wise to confide the powers of the Bill to that body, and by so doing add another Act to the already complicated structure of English Ecclesiastical Law? The Bill was an experiment, and the proper course to take with it, was that which had been recommended by the Commissioners—namely, to limit the existence of its powers to a certain period, and then to deal with it as might be seen fit.


said, he objected to the Bill altogether, because he considered its whole foundation wrong. If national property were taken, it should be applied to national purposes. The churches were national property, and it was not a national purpose to transfer those which were taken down to other places, the inhabitants of which ought to erect their own churches and support their own clergy. He also objected to the bishops having any interference with the Bill, or forming any part of its machinery, their duty being simply to consecrate churches and graveyards. He should move as an Amendment, therefore, that the Chairman report progress.


said, he regarded the Bill as purged of all the objections entertained against it in its former shape. There was then danger of its leading to the desecration of church-yards and the remains of the dead, and new powers of appeal to the Privy Council were also given, which did away with other grave objections. He could not see on what grounds the hon. Member for Southwark wished to defeat the measure, he should give his support to the proposition of the noble Marquess.


said, he trusted that his hon. Friend the Member for Southwark would not press his Amendment, because it was only a week ago that the House had decided, upon a division, that the Bill should be proceeded with. With regard to the principle of the measure, it appeared to be calculated to adapt the distribution of church accommodation to the altered circumstances of the times. He therefore asked the Committee to decide upon the question of reporting progress before discussing the Amendment to the clause.


said, the powers of twenty-eight Acts of Parliament were to be conferred on the Church Commissioners to carry out the Bill. The Bill had been read a second time without consideration; and it might be considered as a local surprise. He should oppose the Amendment to omit the Church Commissioners—the Amendment of the noble Lord (Marquess of Blandford); but, at the same time, he (Mr. Hadfield) was by no means clear that the principle of the Bill was one to be adopted. The Bill began at the wrong end, and his objection to it was not removed even by the exclusion of the Church Building Commissioners.

Motion made and Question put, "That the Chairman do now leave the chair."

The Committee divided; Ayes 12; Noes 62; Majority, 50.


said, that with regard to the Amendment of the noble Marquess, the real question was, to which of the Commissions the proposed powers could be entrusted with the greatest advantage. The Church Building Commission was in some degree a volatile body, its powers having been renewed hitherto by Parliament from time to time, but the Parishes Commission had in fact no real existence; having been appointed to inquire into a particular subject, and having made its Report, the adoption of the Amendment would impose on the Crown the necessity of appointing a new Commission for a particular purpose. He thought the wisest course would be to leave those powers in the hands of the Church Building Commissioners, unless the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir J. Pakington), who had charge of the Bill, should be of opinion that a contrary course was desirable. It was objectionable to multiply Commissions to too great an extent, and the better course he considered would be to concentrate existing functions as much as possible in the hands of a single body. A Committee might be appointed at the commencement of the next Session to inquire into the whole subject, with a view to that result.


said, he could only say, in answer to the appeal of the right hon. Gentleman, that his sole object was that he proposed powers should be vested in the hands of that Commission, which could most efficiently exercise them, and he could not approve of their being entrusted to an expiring body. He heard with great satisfaction the announcement of the right hon. Gentleman, that in the course of the next Session he intended to propose the revision of the Church Commission, with a view to the consolidation of its powers, which he regarded as of great importance, but he did not feel that that proposition bad any bearing on the immediate question. He thought the most advisable course was to adopt the proposition of the noble Marquess.

After some further discussion, the Amendment was agreed to.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 3.


said, he wished to move at the end of the clause to insert the following words: "Provided that no rates for the purposes aforesaid be continued to be levied on the inhabitants beyond what may suffice for the wants of the respective parishes when so united." He wished the Bill to work, and therefore he had proposed that addition. In the City it was proposed to take away three churches out of five, and it would be exceedingly objectionable to parishioners if called upon to pay church-rates for the support of churches at a distance from the parish. He had no objection to churches being taken down and the sites sold; hut he did object to the law remaining in such a condition that the inhabitants of Fen-church-street or Lombard-street were to be called upon to pay a house-tax after the church was removed. If the words or similar words were not added, he was satisfied that the labours of Parliament would be thrown away.


said, he could not consent to the proposal made by the hon. Member for Andover. The hon. Member spoke of church-rates, but the Amendment did not point at church-rates, but at a poundage-tax, which had existed from the time of Charles II., known as the Fire Act. The Committee would see that that payment had become a payment in lieu of tithes, and was as much Church property as tithes were. Because certain parishes were to be thrown together, the Church was to be plundered of its means, and the present opportunity was selected for the experiment. The Bill before the Committee carried out the principle that had been in operation in legislation for some years past, namely, to make the superfluities of one district provide for the deficiencies of another. He saw no reason why the City should be exempted from the operation of that policy, and he hoped, therefore, that his explanation would do away with the objection of the hon. Member.


said, he did not think that the Amendment would effect its object. He did not think the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Pakington), had quite understood the purport of the Amendment. It was not to deprive the Church of any portion of its property, but to prevent a burden being levied on parishes for which they received no substantial benefit. As the payments in question, however, were not, strictly and technically speaking, "rates," he feared that the exact words of the Amendment would not attain the object in view; but undoubtedly the subject deserved consideration.


said, so far as any rate in the shape of church-rate was concerned, that would not be transferred. In a recent instance—where the Bishop of London made an appointment in one of the most important districts in London, he made it a condition—that no less than 600l. a-year should be taken from the income of the new incumbent and transferred to a poorer district.


said he could not discover when the payment in question was commuted in lieu of tithes. He was in the habit of seeing very small congregations in some of the City churches. He thought the object of the Bill was very good, and ought to be carried out; but in the present instance the effect was to draw from the pockets of the people of one district a sum of money which was to benefit a distant district.


said, the question raised by the hon. Member for Andover was of great importance. The Bill was to be worked by the voluntary action of the inhabitants, but it was a Bill for the whole country, and not confined to the City of London. In that view, he doubted whether, if a proposal were made to a parish near Birmingham or Manchester to give up 300l. a-year to augment a living in another district—he doubted whether that proposal would meet with much favour; and his opinion was that the City of London would, in similar cases, entertain very similar feelings. He doubted, where parishes were combined, whether the inhabitants would be willing to pay the same amount as before, for they would say naturally, "If the money is not wanted for our district, why should we be called upon to pay it?" That feeling, he feared, would seriously interfere with the efficient working of the measure. He believed the words proposed would not carry out the object of the hon. Member (Mr. Cubitt), but the question was well worthy of the consideration of those who had the Bill in charge, for if some inducement were not held out to the inhabitants they would not cordially co-operate in carrying out the Bill.


said, the poundage paid in the City was as much in the nature of tithe as any other rent-charge paid in lieu, and was therefore the property of the Church. He felt, however, the force of the objections of the right hon. Gentleman who had just resumed his seat, and thought that some words might be introduced to meet that and similar cases on the bringing up of the Report. The Amendment of the hon. Member for Andover would not, he thought, effect the object he had in view.


said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Pakington), would be prepared with some words that would not only meet the case, but the cases of all other united parishes. He would throw out for consideration whether some machinery of a similar kind to that in the present Bill might not be applied to country parishes.


said, the particular difficulty was this, that they could not levy one rate on two parishes for one church. There was no law to effect such a proceeding.


said, he had no objection that a clergyman with a small income should enjoy a good income; but he objected to transfer funds from one district in order to provide funds for another district. He thought if, on uniting parishes, that a surplus existed over, say 500l. a year, that that surplus should be so dealt with as to augment poor livings.


said, he would consider whether a provision could not be inserted, on bringing up the Report, to meet reasonable objections. Also, whether some plan could not be devised to redeem those payments. He agreed that it would not be advisable to carry over church-rates to contiguous benefices.


said, with the understanding that the matter would have consideration on the part of the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill, he would not press his Amendment, but he must protest against raising a fund to redeem this tax.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 4 to 9 agreed to.

Clause 10.


said, he must complain that the provisions of the clause were ineffective to prevent the sale of grave-yards. The clause provided that no grave-yard should be sold separately from the site of the church, but no provision was inserted to prevent the sale of the site of the church and the grave-yard as well. The clause also provided that nothing in the Bill should legalise the sale of any church surrounded by a burial-ground; most of the churches, however, in the metropolis, abutted on the street, and therefore that provision was quite inoperative.


said, that the promoters of the Bill did not intend to interfere with existing burial-grounds, whether distinct from or attached to churches. He had no objection, therefore, to leave out the words in the clause "apart from the site of any church."

Amendment agreed to.


said, that having disposed of the question of burial-grounds, the Committee now came to the point involving the sale of the site of churches; and he thought that, as the promoters of this Bill had given up the idea of disposing of grave-yards, the power of selling the sites of churches could not be retained, because every inch of ground within these churches was frequently occupied by vaults used for the purposes of interment.


said, he wished to propose as an Amendment, to omit from the clause words which went to legalise the sale of the site of any church. The people would consent to part with the tithes and emoluments attaching to those churches, but they would not part with the burial-grounds or with the sites.


said, he would remind the Committee that the Bill would be only operative by the consent of the parishioners, and that, in cases where interments had taken place in those churches, the remains and the monuments would be carefully and properly removed either by the friends or by the Commissioners. By the sale of those sites a large sum of money would be obtained to provide spiritual accommodation for thousands of persons elsewhere, and as this was no new proposal—as the sites of churches had been frequently disposed of for secular purposes and to accomplish works of utility, without Parliament ever interfering to prevent it—he hoped it would be acceded to in the present instance.


said, he believed there would be a strong feeling of opposition to the Bill, unless there was a distinct provision that the dead should not be disturbed, and the church sites kept as open spaces.


said, he should support the clause as it stood, for he thought it sufficient that the option of adopting the provisions of the Bill rested with the parishioners.


said, he did not think that was a proper mode of putting the case, because the inhabitants of a particular parish might be desirous of adopting the other provisions of the Bill, although they were opposed to the sale of the site of their church. In his opinion it was impossible to draw a distinction between the sites of churches and burial-grounds, when both were equally used for the interment of the dead.


said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman (Sir J. Pakington would do well to defer to what seemed to be the feeling of the Committee on the subject. He would suggest that the clause should be so altered as to prevent the sale of sites of churches in which interments had taken place.


was afraid even such an alteration as that suggested would materially affect the means of carrying out the objects of the Bill; but looking to the feeling of the Committee, he thought it would be best to accede to the suggestion of the right hon. Baronet.

Amendment made, in accordance with the suggestion of the Home Secretary.

Clause agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported, as amended.