HC Deb 05 February 1856 vol 140 cc253-8

said, he rose according to notice, to move for leave to bring in a Bill to abolish Church Rates for other than the purposes therein mentioned; to make provision for the maintenance of the fabric and necessary fittings of Parish Churches in certain cases; and to enable persons to redeem their liability to Church Rates, and otherwise to amend the Law respecting the making, assessing, and collecting Church Rates in England and Wales. He felt he had undertaken a task involving great responsibility, when he proposed to deal with so important a question as church rates, which was a charge upon the land for above ten centuries, considering also that the agitation against them had only been for the last quarter of a century. He felt this responsibility the more from the many unsuccessful attempts that had been made to settle the question. About twenty-two years ago a measure upon the subject had been entertained by the then Ministers of the Crown, and since then nothing effectual had been done. The subject had been so thoroughly discussed from time to time that he would not on the present occasion weary the House by any lengthened statement. He wished, however, shortly to remind the House of the different Motions that had been made on the subject, with a view of showing the wavering that had taken place from one side or another of the question, in consequence of the Government not taking the matter into their own hands. In 1834 a Bill was introduced by Lord Althorp, in conjunction with the noble Lord the Member for London (Lord J. Russell), then Ministers of the Crown, in which that principle, was sanctioned which he was now about to advocate—namely, that the Church of England should be supported by the funds of England, and that the property of the country, without any exception, should be liable for the repairs of the fabric of the church. The hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. T. Duncombe) subsequently brought in a Bill in which he proposed to enact that every one declaring himself a Dissenter should be relieved from the payment of church rates. That was also the principle of the Bill introduced in 1853 by the hon. and learned Member for Tavistock (Mr. R. J. Phillimore). That Bill was defeated by the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir W. Clay), who moved a Resolution that the church should be repaired by the pew rents, and by increasing the value of the property of the church. This Resolution was also defeated. In 1854 the hon. Baronet introduced a Bill simply for the abolition of church rates, which also failed. In 1855 the hon. Baronet seemed to have some qualms of conscience as to the funds being insufficient for the support of the Church, and introduced a measure in which he proposed that the Church should be supported by pew rents. On the same occasion the hon. Baronet stated that he had no fear but that the Church would be supported by the wealthy portion of the community attached to it, and instanced the many munificent donations and bequests for the building of churches in this country. Although there were a great many benefactors of the Church in the way of building new churches, he (Mr. Packe) did not think that they would be found so ready to advance funds for the repairs of old churches. The churches recently were getting greatly out of repair; and as to large village churches, there was no means, without a rate, to prevent them falling into ruin and decay. He would now explain the principle of his measure. In 1854 he brought in a Bill which proposed to divide the rate into two portions, one to be for the fabric of the church, and the other for the services. He proposed that the Dissenters, by making a declaration that they were Dissenters, should not pay towards the maintenance of Divine service, but only towards the fabric. On asking a question at that time of the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) who was then at the head of the Government, he (Mr. Packe) was informed that after the Christmas recess the Government would be prepared to state their views upon the subject. In the meantime the noble Lord (Viscount Palmerston) came into office, and the church rate was forgotten and overlooked. He (Mr. Packe) did not bring in a Bill last year because he was given to understand that the Bishops in another place would be prepared with a measure, and he knew that the Church could not be in better hands. The Archbishop of Canterbury did introduce a Bill on the subject, but Mr. Speaker decided that a Bill having for its object the taxation of the people could not originate in the House of Lords. If, however, that Bill did come down to that House, he (Mr. Packe) confessed he could not have given it his support—believing, with all due deference to the most rev. Prelate, that it was a Bill which struck at the root of the integrity of the Established Church. With regard to his own Bill, he could assure all those who dissented from the doctrines of the Established Church that he had no feeling whatever of a party character in dealing with the question. While he desired to uphold the Established Church, he was most anxious to relieve the conscientious scruples of those who differed from it in this country. He was most desirous for the general peace of this question, and he was most willing to make such concessions as could be fairly made by a member of the Church. He, therefore, hoped that the compromise which he now proposed would be taken in good part, and that at all events he would be allowed to bring in the Bill. The right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department stated last night that he would wait to see his (Mr. Packe's) Bill with a view of considering whether the Government could adopt it, or frame a Bill from it. He could assure the right hon. Baronet that he would be most happy to hand him over his Bill if he would consent to take charge of it. The first part of his Bill empowers the abolition of church rates throughout the kingdom for the necessary performance of Divine service. With a view of meeting the scruples of the Dissenters to the doctrines of the Church, and to the ceremonies of the Establishment, he made this provision in his Bill. He proposed another provision, which was completely new, and which, if carried, would have the effect of relieving from the payment of the rates nineteen-twentieths of the Dissenters. He proposed to relieve all occupiers of rateable property from the payment of church rates. He proposed that the rate should be paid by the occupiers in the same way as the income tax in Schedule A was at present paid, and that it should be deducted by them from the landlord's rent. That would relieve the occupier altogether from the payment of church rates. Another part of his measure was to allow the owners of rateable property to effect the redemption of the payment of church rates by the reasonable and adequate payment of one sum. He then proposed, according to the recommendation of the Commission, the Report of which was made in 1832, that the making, levying, and recovering of the rate should in all respects follow the poor-rate system. These were, he believed, the principal clauses of his Bill, which consisted of only fourteen. He hoped the House would comply with his Motion for leave to bring it in and have it printed, and when it was before the House he would be happy to hear any suggestion that any hon. Member might wish to make in respect to any of its provisions.


seconded the Motion.


said, he did not rise for the purpose of speaking upon the general question of church rates, or upon the principle of the hon. Gentleman's Bill, for he thought it would be more convenient to discuss the measure when it was in the form of a Bill before the House. The hon. Gentleman could not expect that he should express much satisfaction with his proposals, for there were points in his plans which were especially objectionable, and he thought that if it passed it would give rise to greater dissatisfaction on the subject of church rates than already existed. He was, however, so sincere in his wish to obtain a solution of this great question that he would not throw any obstacle in the way of any Member who thought he could throw any light whatever upon the subject. Reserving, therefore, a right to object to the Bill in its future stages, he would not now offer any opposition to it. He might take that opportunity of saying that he intended on an early day to introduce the measure which he had brought before the House in previous Sessions. The various measures which were brought forward on different sides of the House showed the great anxiety there was for a solution of this question amongst all classes, and he thought that the feeling of the House would be that the Bills should be printed, so that Members might have a full opportunity of considering their relative merits, and of contrasting the various schemes that were brought forward.


said, he begged to ex-press his approval of the manner in which the hon. Member for South Leicestershire had brought forward his Motion. The tone of the hon. Gentleman's observations was worthy of all commendation, There could be no subject more important than that of which the proposed Bill treated, and both sides of the House—those for the continuance and those for the abolition of church rates—should endeavour to attain that spirit of forbearance which might make it possible that an agreement could be come to as regarded the settlement of the question. He believed that the great majority of the Dissenters did not differ with the Protestants of the Established Church on any material matters of doctrine. If this was the case, how much the more ready should they be to unite on matters which none of them held to be essential? So long as the present system of church rates continued, one great source of discontent to Dissenters would remain; and without going at large into the question, he might be permitted to ask, had not the Dissenters very strong claims to the favourable consideration of the House of Commons? Might he not with confidence ask, had they not been a most useful class of people in the work of disseminating education, and spreading and maintaining throughout the country the pure doctrines of Christianity? Dissent could not be crushed. Dissent had increased, was increasing, and would continue to increase. He presumed that no hon. Member in that House was of opinion that dissent would ever find its grave. Therefore, it was desirable that the members of the Church of England should assist in removing all that could impede the union of all Protestants in the endeavour to advance the welfare of the country, and bring home to all classes the blessings of religion. Religion was now being attacked in various ways—inroads upon it were being made in various forms. One of these was an effort to violate one of the most solemn commands of their Divine Master, by making encroachments on the Sanctity of the Sabbath. Now, he did think that they should all unite for the maintenance of principles which he considered essential to Christianity itself. He would again beseech of them to join in arresting that attempt to demoralise the community—one calculated to bring down upon the country the judgment of the Almighty.

Leave given.

Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. PACKE and the Marquess of BLANDFORD.

Bill read 1°.


said, he had put a notice on the paper for that evening, to obtain leave to bring in a Bill to relieve Dissenters from the payment of church rates. Feeling that that was a subject which ought to be dealt with by a Bill emanating from the Government, he had put himself in communication with the noble Lord at the head of the Government; but the reply that he had received told him that there was no intention on the part of the Government to bring forward a measure to exempt the Dissenters from that which was contrary to their religious scruples. It was under these circumstances that he had put his notice on the paper, for otherwise he would have considered it presumptuous in him to do so. The Bill he held in his hand was a short one. It consisted of only two clauses; and was intended to relieve every Dissenter from the payment of church rates, on his signing a declaration that he was not a member of the Church of England, and that he contributed to the congregation of which he was a member. However, as he now found that other Bills on the subject were about to be laid before the House he would withdraw his; but he would warn the House against the consequences to the Established Church of continued opposition to a settlement of the question.