HC Deb 25 July 1855 vol 139 cc1370-4

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


said, it was his intention to oppose the Bill. It had been introduced into the House by no Member of the Government; no explanation had been given with regard to it; and, considering that the subject had come before them at that late period of the Session, and that the Bill threw so much power into the hands of the Bishops and the Church Commissioners, he felt himself fully justified in moving that the House do resolve itself into Committee that day three months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon this day three months, resolve itself into the said Committee," instead thereof.


said, he wished the hon. Member for Southwark would devote his attention to Bills affecting persons entertaining his own peculiar religious opinions, and not interfere with Bills of the kind before the House. The Bill was most loudly called for by the religious aspect of the metropolis, which showed that one district overflowed with the means of religious instruction, while other districts were totally destitute in that respect. The measure was founded upon the third Report of the Commissioners for the Subdivision of Parishes, and had been prepared with much thought and consideration, and after due inquiry into the circumstances of the case. The subject was fully debated in the House last year, and the measure then submitted was thrown out on account of some objectionable clauses, though the importance of dealing with the question was not denied. The Report of the Commission to which he had alluded stated that there were in the city about sixteen parishes, in which, including the schools, the attendance on Sunday mornings did not exceed, on an average, sixty or seventy persons. On the other hand, there was in other parts of the metropolis a dense population greatly requiring church accommodation; and he thought, under such circumstances, it was necessary for Parliament to legislate, and allow the abundance which existed on the one side to supply the deficiency of the other.


said, he thought the hon. Member for Southwark had been misled by the preamble of the Bill. It did not provide for any compulsory legislation on the subject; it contained provisions for the union of contiguous benefices only in cases where the inhabitants should petition for such union.


said, the Bill was very much sought for and would be attended with great advantage to the suburban districts of the metropolis. Some of its provisions were certainly objected to, but those objections might be reserved until the House went into Committee.


said, the hon. Member (Mr. Pellatt) was under a misapprehension as to the consideration the Bill had received. It had been referred to, and carefully considered by, a Select Committee of the Upper House, it had received the full sanction of the Commissioners of the Church, and it had been sent down to the House of Commons with the unanimous consent of the House of Lords. He therefore appealed to the hon. Member to allow it to go into Committee.


said, he considered that the Bill was likely to introduce a vast amount of abuse. Besides, it had not at all obtained the notoriety to which its importance entitled it. He objected to the powers it contained being lodged in the heads of the Church, powers which belonged properly only to the Government and the Parliament of the country. It certainly was the opinion of the whole country that the heads of the Church should be relieved from all legislative and administrative functions, and that their attention should be confined to the sacred duties to which they had been called. He thought the hon. Member for Southwark would be doing good service to the country in pressing the House to a division on the question.


said, he thought it quite reasonable, under the circumstances, that those hon. Members who had taken any interest in the subject matter of the Bill should now be allowed an opportunity of expressing their opinions upon it. The main difference between the present measure and that of last year seemed to him to be that, while the latter was confined to London and other large cities, the Bill now before the House was a general one, applying to the whole country. Now, in his opinion, the extension of the Bill to the country districts was a misfortune, and not an advantage. Much stress was laid upon the number of persons attending church, but that was not the proper way to look at this subject. He had inquired into a few of the cases in which it was said that only fifty or sixty persons attended some of the city churches which it was proposed to sweep away. At St. Mary's, Aldermanbury, the persons attending church were said to be sixty, but the number of inhabitants by the last census was 667; at another church, the persons attending were set down at thirty, while the population was 190; and the population in all these cases was an element for consideration. There was no sufficient guard with respect to the application of the machinery as to the consent of the parties whom it was intended to deal with. Churches might be pulled down, sites sold, and bodies disinterred, and all this without any notice whatever to the parish in which the Bill was intended to apply. Now, he did not think that was a proper mode of proceeding, nor was it right that patrons, as the Bill provided, should be taken great care of, while the inhabitants should be entirely thrown overboard. Still, though he entertained those objections to the measure, he should not oppose the Motion for going into Committee.


said, he objected to the Bill, on the ground that its provisions were of an arbitrary and exceptionable character, and that it sought to accomplish, by a side wind, an object which it did not honestly avow.


said, he should support the measure, but thought that many of its details would require alteration in Committee.


said, he wished to call the attention of the House to a fact which had been mentioned by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Frewen), namely, that the Bill could only be set in operation at the express desire of the inhabitants of the parishes to which it was to be made to apply. He, therefore, hoped the hon. Member for Southwark would allow the House to go into Committee on the Bill. It was so guarded, or was intended to be so guarded, in its provisions, that the objection to give arbitrary powers to the Church Commissioners or the Bishops did not apply to it.


said, he objected to the Bill as a means of providing for spiritual destitution. The Church Building Commissioners, it was true, had discharged their duty in a very satisfactory manner, and to the advantage of the Church of England; but it did not consequently follow that they should get the power of pulling churches down. Suppose that in fifty years (a thing which was not very likely) the parishioners should return to their parishes, where would they get the funds necessary to build the churches up again? His persuasion was that the present Bill was only their old friend with a, new face; and he, for one, was prepared to repeat his vote of last Session.


said, he believed that if proper preachers were provided, the least frequented churches in the City of London would speedily be filled.


said, the subject was one of great difficulty. No one could deny the want of church accommodation in the districts around the metropolis; but who could say that the population would not return to the City in the course of a few years? He should vote against proceeding with the Bill any further.


said, he had voted against the Bill of last Session. He thought it was a hardship that the inhabitants of the City of London should be called upon to support churches beyond their own bounds. At the same time, there were more churches in the City than were required, and under all the circumstances of the case he would vote for going into Committee.

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

The House divided:—Ayes 70; Noes 47: Majority 23.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

House in Committee.

Clause 1.


said, he would suggest that some limit should be placed in regard to the population of benefices about to be united, and would, therefore, move to insert the words: "Provided always that such contiguous benefices do not exceed a population of 2,500.


said, he considered that it would be perfectly safe to leave the limit to be defined by the Bishops and the Church Commissioners.


said, he objected to proceeding with a Bill of snch importance at so late a period of the Session, the more especially as the Bill was in effect the same as that which had been rejected by a large majority last Session. ["No, no!"] The alterations were, at all events, immaterial.


said, the difficulty was what was a proper cure of souls for one clergyman. It was difficult, if not impossible, to say how many souls a single clergyman could look after. That was a matter which he considered ought always to be left to the Commissioners, and could not be decided by the House of Commons. Undoubtedly, there ought to be some provision for the more effectual cure of souls in populous parishes than at present existed. In many cases, he thought it would be possible that two clergymen might work together more effectually in one parish than in two distinct parishes.

The Amendment altered by the substitution of the number 3,500 for2,500, agreed to.

Clause, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2.


said, he wished to move in line 37 to leave out the words, "Her Majesty's Commissioners for building new churches," and insert the words, "the Parish Commissioners," which was in accordance with a recommendation made by the Commissioners by whom the Bill had been framed. He would beg also to point out that as the Church Building Commission would expire in a year from that time, it would not be wise to place in their hands the power of carrying out the proposed measure.


said, his only object was that the powers should be placed in the hands of a body capable of carrying them out, and he concurred with his noble Friend, that it would be inconvenient to entrust them with a body whose functions would, under the existing Act of Parliament, expire in twelve months.


said, the question was too important to be decided during the five minutes that yet remained of the sitting; he should, therefore, move that the Chairman report progress.

House resumed; Committee report progress.