HC Deb 13 February 1856 vol 140 cc681-9

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving the second reading of the Bill, said, he wished the House to observe that the Bill was identical with one which he introduced last Session, he therefore did not propose to give a lengthened explanation of it on this occasion. It was a Bill for the formation of separate parishes. Time was when there were no parishes in the country; the clergy were congregated in cathedral towns, and thence spread themselves throughout the surrounding counties. The formation of parishes was for the sake of increased efficiency, by reason of the division of labour. It was of importance to render the parochial system as perfect as possible; and of late years great advances had been made in division of parishes, At first, a whole diocese was a parish; then it was broken up into smaller divisions, and then, as population increased, those divisions were subdivided. Some thirty years ago a large sum was voted by Parliament, and a Commission was appointed to carry on the parochial subdivision of the country, and to the state of the districts formed by that Commission he now wished to direct attention. Great good had been effected, but there still existed anomalies and defects which it was the object of the Bill he now asked a second reading for to remedy. District parishes, formed under the Church Building Acts, were taken out of large parishes. They enjoyed all the powers of performing the daily and weekly services of the Church, but not the power of performing the services of baptism, marriage, and burial, until after the avoidance of the mother church. The clergyman was merely a stipendiary curate, and the district was liable for twenty years to rates for the repair of the mother church. District chapelries were districts assigned to chapels already existing, and they came under much the same law. Consolidated chapelries were under a curious modification of the law. They were chapelries formed out of more than one parish, and full power was given at once to perform all the services of the Church. Particular districts were districts formed under the Private Patronage Act. Thus there were not less than four different districts under the Church-Building Act—district parishes, district chapelries, consolidated chapelries, and particular districts, each having rules of legislation peculiar to itself, which created a vast amount of confusion and complexity, at variance with, and repugnant to, the whole tenor of the parochial system. Another plan for the subdivision of parishes was approved by an Act passed about thirteen years ago, and commonly known as Sir Robert Peel's Act. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners were by that Act empowered to form districts, to be endowed in a certain manner, to become parishes as soon as a church was built and consecrated, and to be entitled to all the privileges and status of a district parochial character. The system, under the numerous Church Building Acts, was exceedingly complicated; the other system, under Sir Robert Peel's Act, was very simple, and had been found most efficacious in carrying on the parochial subdivision of the country. There were many inconveniences under the former system. Nothing could be more prejudicial to the parochial character of a district and to the general efficiency of parochial administration than that the incumbent should not have the power of performing the services of the church in his district. It resulted in the most unseemly and indecorous performance of the services, which were thereby crowded upon the mother church. At Manchester, in consequence of the districts not having the power to perform the services of baptism and marriage, there existed in the Mother Church a state of confusion and disorder which excited general reprehension and disgust. The number of baptisms sometimes exceeded one hundred. The parties collected at the neighbouring public houses in the vicinity of the church, waiting the conclusion of the service, when the rite was performed, and oftentimes the sponsors appeared at the font in a state of intoxication. At St. Pancras', marriages were likewise solemnised in vast numbers, and the state of confusion which arose frequently destroyed the Christian solemnity of the service. In some instances, where the services could be performed in the districts, the assent of the incumbent of the mother church was necessary, and he had a right to claim a portion of the fees. Fees were demanded larger than the law allowed, and the influence of the clergy was thereby often destroyed. The districts, as he had already stated, were liable for twenty years to the rates of the mother church, and, as no benefit was derived, the district churchman frequently refused the rates more from this reason than from any disapproval of the Church as a great national institution. [Mr. HADFIELD: Hear, hear.] He observed the ironical cheer of the hen. Member for Sheffield, but that hon. Member by no means represented the real feelings of Dissenters on the subject. The fact was, rates were often opposed, not only by Dissenters, but by Churchmen, on account of their deriving no benefit from the expenditure of the rates. The simple remedy, which he had endeavoured to embody in the Bill with respect to this question, was to declare that no church rate should be levied in a district which was not applied to the church of that district. Another objection was, that the minister was styled "perpetual curate. "It might be asked, "What's in a name?" But there was a great deal in a name. It would be generally understood that a perpetual curate was either nominally or really in a state of dependence on the incumbent of the mother church. He proposed, therefore, to alter the name to that of "vicar," and, where tithes formed part of the endowment, to that of "rector." he proposed that on the memorial of the minister, churchwardens, and two-thirds of a parish, it should be by Order in Council erected into a district parish with all the rights of parishes, and especially with the privilege of having all the rites and services of the Church performed in the church of the district. The Bill also provided that fees should be received by the incumbent of the mother church until after the first avoidance, when they should revert to the incumbent of the district church, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners having power to award compensation to the former for the loss of fees. These districts were the offspring of the mother church, and the time was now come for them to enjoy a full immunity of parochial privileges. No church rates were to be collected in any new parish except for the support of its own church. He believed that vast benefit would result from these alterations. With regard to the formation of new parishes, the provisions of the 6 & 7 Vict, for that purpose were simple enough. Its mode of procedure was to establish a parish, leaving the church to be erected afterwards. And under that Act 250 new parishes had been established. He proposed to enlarge the powers of that Act, and to enable the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to exercise those powers not only in parishes which had no churches, but in such as had churches; and thus they would be enabled to assign parishes to churches already existing. The Church-Building Acts, which were complicated, might either be repealed or consolidated. But he proposed at present only to extend the powers of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in that respect. The next feature of his Bill referred to the mode of endowing districts. There were two classes of parishes requiring additional endowment, and two modes of endowment. One was from the funds of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and the other from private liberality. Both those modes were very valuable, and the latter must not be neglected. It was from that source the Church had obtained its earliest endowments, and persons ought to be encouraged to devote their property to the service of God and the interests of the Church in this country. There were two classes of parishes requiring endowment—the parishes insufficiently endowed with tithes, and parishes only having pew rents. There were upwards of 3,528 ancient parishes which gave incomes of less than £150 a year. Twenty years ago the Ecclesiastical Commissioners reported that it would require £145,000 to augment the incomes of parishes in public patronage, and £131,000 to augment those in private patronage. The Commissioners had only been able to provide £46,000, and the House would see how large a sum remained to be provided for the augmentation of clerical incomes. Then there were about 1,000 parishes which had no endowment at all, or a very small one, other than pew rents. The ancient principle of endowment was always to give the patronage of churches to the parties who endowed them; and, adopting that principle, he proposed to vest the patronage in the hands of parties contributing towards the endowment. There were two Acts already existing to carry out that principle; the 1 & 2 Will. IV., one of the Church-Building Acts; and the 6 & 7 Vict., Sir Robert Peel's Act. Under the first Act parties contributing endowments of £40 a year were entitled to patronage, and under that Act £90,000 had been subscribed, either towards the erection of churches or the endowments assigned to them. Sir Robert Peel's Act left it discretionary with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to accept what endowment they might think proper in exchange for the assignment of the patronage. Under that Act £160,000 had been subscribed as capital either for churches or endowments. The House would see the great value of a principle under which £250,000 of actual property had accrued to the Church from the operation of these two Acts. Ho now proposed to extend that principle to a different class of districts:—first, to churches endowed by pew rents, of which the patronage was not specifically invested; and next, to churches the patronage of which was in the hands of the incumbents of the mother churches, who had taken no share in endowing them, and who, he thought, might be called upon to give up their patronage if parties should come forward and propose to give them a permanent endowment. The next class of parishes was those in the gift of the Lord Chancellor, or the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, of less value than £200 a year. The next were parishes in the gift of any ecclesiastical corporation, aggregate or sole, under £200 yearly value. It might be matter for consideration whether any definite sum should be named, or whether the amount of endowment should be left, as it was now, to the discretion of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners; but, although he was willing to leave that open to consideration, he should propose that any contributors to the amount of £40 a year and building a church should have the patronage of the church vested in them. Or patronage would follow to a person endowing the church with the clear sum of £150 a year, or providing a parsonage house and contributing a sum of £100 a year. A further mode of endowment was by dividing the tithes. There were some very large parishes with very large incomes, and he proposed to give the Ecclesiastical Commissioners power, with certain consents, to divide those parishes and the endowments of those parishes. Provisions of that nature might be carried into effect without any further expense than the employment of a few clerks, since the Commissioners were already in existence, and the power of creating an increased number of districts did not carry with it a large expenditure. It would, of course, be necessary to protect existing interests by awarding compensation in some cases, and by providing that patronage should not be taken away until the first avoidance by those whose interests were affected. His Bill was merely one to simplify the old laws of the Church, and to take advantage of the experience which time gave us in adapting the Church of England to the wants of the people. He proposed no changes inconsistent with the ecclesiastical laws of the country, and he trusted that the House would, by passing the Bill, lay the foundation of great and extensive good, which would grow up and be a blessing to thousands hereafter. He had now to ask the House to agree to the second reading, and, if it were thought desirable to send the Bill to a Select Committee, he should not object.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said, he should like to know the opinion of the Government on a Bill which proposed to alter the whole ecclesiastical establishment of the country. The affairs of the Church seemed to be in a state of great confusion and disorder. he believed the Church Building Act would expire in July next, and then the powers of the Commissioners would terminate. And he believed that no intimation had been given of renewing those powers.If the Bill were referred to a Select Committee, who were the persons to form that Committee? Would they be persons of all denominations or only of one? Were the representatives of the Nonconformists to be excluded? The Bill gave a power to the Government to apply Crown lands to the purposes of the Church; was the House prepared to sanction that? Had the Church not at present an enormous amount of wealth which no other denomination had, and were the to come and ask for the addition of the Crown lands as well? He trusted the House would never think of sanctioning such a monstrous proposition. Churchrates were now on the point of being abolished, for he was convinced that the great majority of the House would insist on their entire abolition; yet it was proposed by the Bill to still further extend the system of pew rents, and vest them absolutely in the hands of the incumbent. Was the noble Lord acting on his own authority, or on that of the Church? He (Mr. Hadfield) would be glad to know the opinion of the Government upon the Bill, and he trusted the Government would give its provisions their most serious consideration. He thought the entire subject did not come before the House in such a manner as to enable them to come to a proper conclusion upon it. It was introduced without the sanction of the Government. He was opposed to the Bill in its principle. Its provisions were ill considered; it was confined to the opinions of one particular individual, and he apparently did not know what party in the Church supported it, or what opposed it. He should, therefore, beg to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.


seconded the Amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."


said, the hon. Member for Sheffield was quite right in assuming that the Bill was brought in on the responsibility of the noble Lord (the Marquess of Blandford) and not with the sanction or concurrence of the Government; but he was bound to say that the Government thought the object of the measure to be one of importance. The principle of the Bill, so far as it could be gathered from its details, was to provide for the more effectual subdivision of large and populous parishes, and also to provide for those changes which had taken place since such parishes had been originally set out. It was impossible to say that that was not a subject to which the attention of Parliament should be directed. He thought it would be wrong in the House to refuse a second reading to the Bill, the more especially as the noble Lord had expressed his willingness to refer it to a Select Committee. Many of the clauses might require consideration by the Committee, but the noble Lord did not ask for any money from the public, or to create a power to deal with any property not the property of the Church. The noble Lord had sought increased facilities for the subdivision of large parishes, and the endowment of those which were made, and he asked for no money not the property of the Church, except by the clause authorising the heads of departments to devote property belonging to the Crown as sites for churches or the residences of the clergy— [The Marquess of BLANDFORD: Only for sites of churches.] Whether the proposal in that clause was right or wrong was a matter for consideration, but did not, in his opinion, constitute a reason why the Bill should not have a second reading. The noble Lord had also touched upon the question of church rates, but not further in the Bill than the apportionment of certain pew rents for the repairs of the church, and that apportionment was only to apply to new churches. As the noble Lord proposed to send the Bill to a Select Committee, the Government had no objection to its being read a second time.


said, he was prepared to support the Bill; he found, however, that it proposed to confer additional power on the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. A Committee of Inquiry into the constitution of that Commission, and its capability for the discharge of the functions entrusted to it, was now sitting. He, therefore, thought the present Bill, and another presented by the noble Lord, ought to be referred to that Committee.


said, he wished to correct a misapprehension into which the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Hadfield) had fallen. Power was to be given to a public department, not to grant lands for the purposes of the Church, but to grant sites for churches—a power already in existence under the Church-Building Act.


said, he believed that the Bill would extend the usefulness of the Church of England. The endowment of district churches in Scotland had been attended with the happiest results. He trusted that the noble Lord's prolonged exertions for the benefit of the Church would be crowned with success, and that this measure would be connected with his name as one of the greatest boons which had been conferred on the Church of England.


said, he hoped that one or two Nonconformists would be placed upon the Committee. He wished to know why Nonconformists should not have a seat upon it as well as members of the Church? The population had by this time overgrown the parochial system, and he did not wish to throw any impediments in the way of the improvement of that system, but it must be remembered that the number of Nonconformists, as well as of members of the Church of England, had greatly increased, and that they had an interest in the settlement of the questions proposed to be dealt with by the Bill.


said, he would not oppose the reference of the Bill to a Select Committee, and would therefore withdraw his Amendment, but he intended to take the sense of the House upon the construction of that Committee, if it were not nominated upon a fair principle.


said, there was an inconsistency in the position taken up by the hon. Member for Sheffield. If the principle were conceded that no Member of the House was disqualified on account of his religious opinions from considering the subject matter of a Bill relating to the temporalities of the Church—and it would certainly be invidious and offensive to lay down an opposite principle—an admission might, on the other hand, be very fairly demanded from the hon. Gentleman, that he was bound in equity and honour to give his mind to the discussion of subjects of that kind with the view of promoting the interests of the Church. No objection could be taken to the spirit of the observations made by the hon. Member for Southwark (Mr. Pellatt), who appeared to make such an admission. But the hon. Member for Sheffield gave it as a reason for his opposition to the Bill, that it had reference only to the Established Church, and to no other religious community. If the hon. Gentleman would adhere to the principle laid down by the hon. Member for South-wark there would be little difficulty in the construction of the Committee. With regard to the Bill itself, he thought the noble Lord and the House had come to a wise decision in referring it to a Select Committee. No man belonging to the Church of England, or taking an interest in its welfare, could entertain a doubt with respect to the principle of the Bill. The noble Lord, however, with that laudable zeal for the interests of the Church which had gained for him so much honour, was dealing with many questions of the utmost difficulty and delicacy. The House reserved to itself the right of a perfectly free discussion of those questions, and the only pledge given by hon. Gentlemen assenting to the second reading was, that they would render their best assistance to the noble Lord by proposing whatever they thought best adapted for the attainment of the object he had in view.

Question put "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°, and committed to a Select Committee.

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