§ Order for committee read;
§ House in Committee.
§ Clause 1.
§ Sir JOHN TRELAWNY
said, that having been the Chairman of the Committee which sat upon church rates he wished to correct one or two misapprehensions which appeared to have been entertained during the course of the former debate. A return had been obtained on this subject by the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Lord Robert Cecil) upon which some argument had been found, but in which in truth a great fallacy was involved. That return gave the number of parishes where church rates had been objected to within the last twenty years, and, accordingly, all the parishes which bad not objected in that time were set down by the noble Lord as consenting to their payment. But the truth Was, there were many towns where the battle was fought and won by the antichurch rate men more than twenty years ago, and where no contest had since taken place, because no attempt had since been made to levy the rates. Thus in Manchester there had been no rate levied for the last twenty years, and yet on a recent occasion no less a sum than £6000 was voluntarily subscribed for the repair of the cathedral church; Tavistock, which, he, represented, was another instance where the church had been repaired in the most satisfactory manner, and was in that respect a model to the whole country. There W as an argument often used by hon. Gentlemen opposite, that church rates were not a tax on the person, but On property. In their origin he believed there could be no doubt they were a tax in personam, and though custom had at a later period made them a tax on property, yet the decision in the Braintree case restored the rate to its 558 original character of a tax on the person, because that decision established the principle that it required a majority of the parishioners to make a rate. It was another fallacy to suppose that this was a mere Dissenting grievance. The Report of the Committee on the subject showed that many Churchmen complained of it on various grounds, a very common ground being that residents who occupied seats in district churches were obliged to pay to the mother church. It was evident from the papers which had been published on the question that there were others besides Dissenters who suffered from the grievance of church rates. There was great force in an observation which fell from the noble Lord the Member for London on a recent occasion, that they could not have a national church without some national means of supporting it. It was exactly because he (Sir J. Trelawny) wished to see it a national church that he would leave the maintenance of its fabrics to the spontaneous feelings of the people at large. He differed from those who thought that persons who objected to pay church rates should have their names put on the church door, as taking no part in the administration of the rate. If a man was in this way branded as a Dissenter, he would probably dislike the Church ever after. It was admitted by hon. Members opposite that there ought to be some change in the law of church rates. Why, then, did they not legislate with the object of putting the law on a better footing? It was desirable to have all the light possible on this subject, and he would therefore suggest that hon. Members opposite ought to be allowed to bring in their Bills; that they should be read a first time pro formâ; and that the discussion on their merits should take place on the second reading.
§ MR. GRIFFITH
remarked that be was ready to make the hon. Baronet a present of the country towns, as there would be little difficulty in getting voluntary contributions there to support the fabric of the Church; but what would be do with the £10,000 country parishes where no such voluntary means could be had? He could not see what distinction there was between the payment of church rate and tithe; and he must say that if the argument against church rates was good for anything, it would go to the extent of abolishing the whole Church Establishment of the country, because tithes went to support the preaching of doctrines they 559 could not agree to, while church rates were limited to the repair of the parish church. To be logical in their conclusions he thought the supporters of the Bill ought to ask for an entire separation of Church and State. He was aware, however, that there was a wide difference between the political Dissenter in that House, who made ad captandum speeches on this subject, and the honest and respectable Dissenters out of doors. He believed that the latter did not desire to attack the Church Establishment, but that they merely wished to be relieved from a demand which had become obnoxious to them. The House was aware that this was a Bill of so uncompromising a character that no amendment upon the single clause of the measure could he made by the forms of the House. He believed that many hon. Gentlemen opposite had voted fur the Bill who would have preferred a compromise, and who supported it with a mental reservation that they would vote for an Amendment. Did any hon. Member suppose that this Bill would become law? It seemed to him that it only walked through the House as a sort of pious formality, that it would go up to another place, and that the time would be lost that had been occupied in its discussion. He believed that the supporters of this Bill would better consult the feelings of their constituents and the interests of the country by agreeing to some reasonable compromise than by persisting in passing a Bill which was so little likely to receive the Royal Assent.
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
said, be felt as strongly as any one the impossibility of maintaining the law of church rates in its present condition, but he could not agree in the mode of action suggested by the promoters of this Bill. To sweep away the ancient provision for the parish churches throughout the country without setting up something in its stead, was revolution and not reform. No doubt, if church rates were abolished, voluntary efforts would supply their places in the majority of cases, but in a few cases they could not, and for these few cases some statesmanlike provision ought to be made. A measure which entirely abolished church rates and threw the support of parish churches entirely on some illegitimate source, such as pew-rents, would do more than anything else to create an idea in the minds of the poorer classes, that the church was no longer the church of the poor, but of the opulent middle classes. A gentleman who 560 was stated to be the legal adviser of the great Dissenting bodies, when examined by himself before the Committee of the hon. Baronet, of which he (Mr. Beresford Hope) was a Member, was obliged to allow that very few of the poorer classes found their way into the meeting-houses, which they kept up by pew-rents. He could see no objection to what was called "ticketing" Dissenters. Of course they must consider themselves better than churchmen, and what disgrace could there be in affixing their names to what must be in their opinion a list of honour? But if they objected to it, he saw no reason why the churchmen should not be ticketed and the list affixed at the church door. Thus, instead of a list of Dissenters, there might be one of person who paid church rates and had a right to a attend vestry meetings. An idea had got abroad that the Dissenters would not object to a general payment for the sustentation of the fabric alone; but he would rather give up church rates altogether than adopt such a course; he could not see the difference between supporting the rites of the church and sup! porting the buildings whose value consisted in their being used for those rites. If they were to have a mere fabric rate, it would be the first step towards the continental system, where the state had taken up the property of all religious denominations, and thus unfortunately kept down liberty of conscience on every side. It ought to be recognized as a rule that those only should pay the rate who used the church; they could not shut their eyes to the existence of the large and influential body of Dissenters who had grown up in the land, and who could not be made to pay the rate, and it was necessary that some compromise should be made; but the question could not be settled by a hurried and fragmentary Bill like this. Let them exempt Dissenters, but let the church have the power of raising funds under the prestige of the old name, let the rate be removed from the cognisance of the temporal court, and be recoverable only in foro conscientiœ; and let the church, as a corporation, have power to hold vestries under church officers of its own election, and make a rate on its own members. That would be a proper and an honourable settlement, but the required reform could not be carried out by this Bill, and he therefore hoped it would not be pressed further.
§ MR. MELLOR
said, he was not one of those who represented extreme opinions, or 561 wished to use the language of menace, as he was quite persuaded that that was not the way to induce the country gentlemen of England to vote for the abolition of church rates. He was, however, induced by his large experience of the practical working of church rates, consequent upon his having taken a part in the Braintree, the Leicester, and the Norwich cases, wherein the law had been fully explored, to caution the House that they could never satisfactorily legislate upon this subject, without in the first instance abolishing the collection of these rates. In short, he had come to the honest conclusion, that no compromise of this question would be satisfactory. It was with that view he gave notice of the Amendment which stood on the paper in his name, and which he hoped would lead to some discussion, if not to some settlement of the question. He was desirous of meeting the wishes of churchmen, so far as he consistently could, and he would therefore willingly give his assistance to propositions for altering the law of mortmain, so as to obtain endowments for repairs, for incorporating churches into diocesan districts, to collect funds, and to let pews, where the letting of pews was proper, and for any improvement in the management of ecclesiastical property which would provide funds for the repairs of churches. But those propositions could be better dealt with when church rates were abolished. He was opposed to limiting the interference of parishioners in the management of parochial affairs, nor could he consent to any proposition which would go to make the distinction between church- men and Dissenters perpetual. He thought that to relieve Dissenters from contributing to the church service, but to make them pay for the repair of the church fabric, was to make a distinction for which there was no foundation. If hon. Gentlemen opposite were ready to relieve the Dissenters from the one, they ought equally to relieve them from the other. Again, to give up the rate in towns where it had been abolished, and to retain it in the country, was to take a low view of the Church of England. According to the statement of Dr. Guthrie, one of the most eminent ministers of the Free Church of Scotland, £300,000 was contributed by a million of persons belonging chiefly to the poorer classes in Scotland for the support of their religion, and he could not bring himself to believe that the wealthy members of the Church of England would allow the parish churches 562 to fall into decay. It was well known that a great many things were paid out of the church rates besides the repair of the church fabric. Out of the £250,000 collected, it was probable that not more than £135,000 went to the repair of the churches, and was it necessary or desirable to keep up a continual sore and cancer in many parishes of England on account of such a paltry sum? It would be far better to let the law alone than alter by any expedient which should leave such a cause of excitement in the country. They could not do a more dangerous thing than to assert that church rates and other property rested on the same footing. Was that property which could be refused by a majority? It was well known that the repair of the fabric of the church in the time of Edward VI. belonged to the rector, and not to the laity, by common law, although by custom the laity might be bound to repair. Church rates, therefore, had their origin in the voluntary oblations of the people. Although the laity were compelled afterwards to observe, what Lind-wood styled "this laudable custom" under tile fear of ecclesiastical censures. With the Reformation, however, the reasons which gave validity and sanction to church rates ceased to exist, and under these circumstances there was no great immorality in thinking that the duty of paying them was a very imperfect obligation. He was willing to admit that it was a duty which was incumbent by law, but under the circumstances it was an imperfect obligation, and one which he thought it would be wise and politic on the part of the Legislature to abolish altogether.
denied that the Bill was either a hurried or fragmentary one, or that the friends of this Bill allowed that this was a question which admitted of compromise. It was a question of conscience or it was nothing at all. If persons were willing to pay church rates, no compulsory rate was necessary; if they were not willing, a compulsory rate was tyranny, and tyranny of the worst kind. It had been stated during the debates on this Bill that two members of the Society of Friends at Bristol contributed very liberally to the repair of a church there. But how was the Society of Friends dealt with in London? Twenty-six chairs and a table were annually taken from the Friends' meeting house in Houndsditch, as the price of the liberty of worshipping God according to their conscience. It was 563 not true that the agitation on this question was subsiding. There had been a turn of the tide in its favour so far as the votes of the House (which were a pretty fair index of the feeling out of doors) were concerned. In 1853, there was a majority of forty-eight against church rates abolition, whereas, in the present year, there was a majority of fifty-three in the contrary direction. Application was recently made to distrain on three magistrates at Leicester for church rates, but the chief magistrate of that town, to his great credit, rather than sign distress warrants against them, paid the amount himself. The hon. Gentleman who had just sat down talked of Dissenters objecting to be ticketed, but he (Mr. Gilpin) was a Dissenter, and had no such objection. He believed that those who had any earnestness in their profession need not be afraid of saying what they were. When they were afraid, it was time to change. It was as great an injustice to compel an unwilling Churchman to pay Church Rates as to compel an unwilling Dissenter. On the present occasion he might claim the votes of many hon. Gentlemen on the Ministerial benches, who, he found from the records, had voted for the abolition of church rates on former occasions. The noble Lord the Secretary for the Colonies had expressed very emphatically an opinion against church rates. Some of the best clergymen of the Church of England had stated their opinion to be, that the only mode of settling the question was by abolishing compulsory rates. He (Mr. Gilpin) regarded it as a question, not of expediency and policy, but of justice and right. Dissenters did not wish to deprive the Church of England of the power of levying voluntary rates, and it was a discredit to Churchmen to levy any other than voluntary rates. Nor was this a Dissenters' movement against the Established Church. It was simply a movement against a compulsory mode of supporting religion; and, although many people appeared to think that the objection on the ground of conscience, urged against the payment of the rate, was not sincerely felt, he could state from his own knowledge that some of those annually distrained on for that tax were most liberal contributors to the benevolent institutions of the country. The Premier, to a deputation to him on the question, said, with questionable wisdom, that if the Bill were carried through the House of Commons, 564 church rates would probably become one of those questions that were hung up between that and the other House of Parliament. Those questions he (Mr. Gilpin) trusted would not be multiplied. If the Bill should pass through the House of Commons, he hoped that the other House would consent to a satisfactory settlement of the question. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford, while alluding to the withdrawal of the Queen's Letter, advised the members of the Church of England to rely for the support of that Church on the faith, love, and zeal of her members, rather than on other sources. The same advice might be beneficially given with respect to Church Rates. The abolition of Church Rates, so far from being prejudicial to the Church of England, would be beneficial to her best and highest interests, and to those interests which they should all value beyond every earthly institution—those of Christianity itself.
§ MR. CUMMING BRUCE
said, that although he was a Scotchman, he believed he had no small interest in the question. He wished, therefore, to ask the hon. Member who had introduced the Bill whether he meant to extend its principle to Scotland. In that country a charge very similar in its character to the church rate, but much larger in amount, was imposed upon the holders of property. He was himself a Dissenter from the Church of Scotland, and yet his property was annually assessed for the building of churches, for the repair of churches, for the erection of manses, for the repair of manses, offices, and garden walls, and for the establishment of school-houses. In a parish in which he was a landowner he had paid in one year for church-building purposes a sum of £1,100, which was more than the amount he had received for his land in the same period. That was a general charge on the landholders of Scotland, and they never thought that any violence was done to their consciences by requiring them to pay a tax to which their property was liable at the time it had come into their possession. On the contrary, they thought that such a refusal would be putting into their own pockets that which did not belong to them. He might give them as an example the whole body of Dissenters in Scotland, who had never hesitated to pay those charges to which they felt they were by law liable.
§ MR. GARNETT
said, that there was no 565 denying that, as regarded the Church of England, they had arrived at what might be termed a crisis. The question they ought to consider was, what was to be done in lieu of church rates, for he took it that is an impost they were doomed. He believed on his conscience that by their abolition there would be no real loss to the Church of England. It was not a question which regarded Dissenters alone, for he had heard clergymen of the Church of England recognize complaints made by members of the Church itself on the subject of the payment of these rates. He would, would, therefore, venture to suggest a solution of the problem, which he trusted the House would approve. If the clause passed, he would propose the addition of one enabling the churchwardens to collect voluntary contributions, to be called "Church offerings," to be assessed on the property now liable for church rates. He would propose that the names should be entered and the amount specified; that the churchwardens should take their book round, in order that any one who was willing to do so might contribute to the maintenance of the Church and its services; that any one who declined to pay should have a note to that effect attached to his name, and that for twelve months after he should have no voice in the vestry with regard to any church matter, and that if he should be willing to pay at the end of that period his name should be restored. The right hon. Gentleman the President of the Poor Law Board, in speaking upon the subject at his re-election upon taking office, said:—My opinion is, that in a parish where the majority is in favour of a rate, and where the property has been acquired subject to that rate, it is right and fair that the rate should be levied. But in a parish where the majority is against a rate, there, I say, it is a fair and thing that no rate should be levied.Now, taking that view of the question, he could not think that the maintenance of church rates was necessary. It was something like saying that the rental of estates should be paid if the majority of the tenants were willing to pay their rent, and certainly property liable to such an incident would not be worth a day's purchase; and, for his own part, he believed that there existed courage, faith, and hope enough among the members of the Church of England to meet any difficulty which might arise from the abolition of the rate.
§ MR. FOX
said, he held it to be a well recognised and sound principle, that no 566 man should be called upon to contribute to the support of a religion in the tenets of which he did not concur. The hon. Member for Elginshire (Mr. Cumming Bruce) had referred to the Dissenters in Scotland as an example worthy of imitation by the Dissenters of England, so far as willingly submitting to those charges which were by law imposed upon them. The hon. Gentleman, however, had overlooked two important differences between the two cases. In the first place, in Scotland, more perhaps than in any other country in the world, the Church establishment, especially including the Free Church, was in unison with the principles, wishes, and feelings of the majority of the people. That was one important difference. Another was, that the claims for church rates were claims which were attached to the land or other property, which was not the case in this country. It had been said that the Church buildings of this country were national pro-property. They were so; but, that being the case, why was a large portion of the nation shut out of them? By the faith and forms of the Church, many Dissenters were as effectually excluded as they would be by placing the police or the military at the doors to prevent them from entering. It should be recollected that the tithes originally were appropriated in a great measure to the sustentation of the clergy. The burden, however, of paying these tithes was subsequently thrown altogether upon the shoulders of the laity, and the greatest discontent prevailed. Means were at length found to get rid of those tithes, so far as to make their imposition more just. So might it be said of this question of church rates. The religions character of the country had considerably changed since these rates were first imposed, and that change of circumstances had now rendered the imposition of them most unjust. It was, therefore, but reasonable that, like tithes, they should be abolished as far as the Dissenters, at all events, were concerned. At the same he would have no objection to the law remaining so far intact as to enable those who received the benefit of the Church services to contribute to the support of the fabric. All he was desirous of seeing was a measure abolishing the impost of church rates as a compulsory assessment generally. Many substitutes in lieu of church rates had been suggested by members of the Church themselves. He would say, let them settle those differences amongst themselves, but let those 567 who differed from the Church be free from the liability to support it. He certainly, for one objected to being ticketed as belonging to this or that denomination. He might not choose to pledge himself in one year as to the exact faith which he might hold in a subsequent year. Was all the progress of a man's life to be reported and ticketed also? Was the churchwarden's book to keep an account of a man's doubts, inquiries, and changes of religious opinion? Let those who worshipped in the church, however, be taxed for the support of the Church if they liked it; lie would heartily assent to that arrangement; and, if the laity and clergy of the Establishment wished to have the power of legally enforcing the rate, as applicable to themselves, and to themselves only, he would not oppose their obtaining it. But to any attempt to fetter opinion or interfere with that freedom of worship which had been claimed for all since the Reformation he must offer a decided resistance.
§ LORD ROBERT CECIL
said, that the Free Church of Scotland stood in the same relation to the Established Church of that country as the various Dissenting bodies did to the Church of England; and if church rates were a grievance to the Dissenters in this country they were a still greater grievance to the Free Church in Scotland. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last said that he had no objection to the Church assessing her own members. Now, the cry of the opponents of church rates had throughout been "Entire abolition, and no compromise;" though whether they would obtain as large a majority for that naked proposition as they obtained in the early part of this year might well be doubted. But when Churchmen were asked to support the fabric by themselves, it was forgotten that the Church was muzzled and fettered—that the organization which every Dissenting body enjoyed had been taken from her. He did not say there were not difficulties in the way of Convocation acting in its present form; but it should be remembered that Parliament had suspended its functions; and now they turned round and told the Church that her sustentation was no business of theirs. Parliament thus prevented her from doing her own work for herself, and yet refused to do it for her. That was an injustice that could not long endure. The present numerical majority of the House, which was composed of a variety of sects, appeared intoxicated with their success, and 568 would listen to no compromise. It would be better to take the opinion of the House of Lords before entering further into this controversy, and if that assembly took the same view as the lower branch of the Legislature of course there would be an end of the question. If, on the other hand, they rejected the proposition, the House of Commons would approach the subject in another Session in a temper much more favourable to a reasonable adjustment.
§ SIR ARTHUR ELTON
said, that the question of giving the Church power to raise a voluntary rate had nothing to do with the question before the House, and he would suggest, therefore, that they should now divide on the first clause, and then discuss the Amendments which he had put on the paper in their proper order.
§ MR. COLLINS
said, he would admit that the present Bill was an improvement in several important respects upon its predecessors. But it inflicted an injustice on the Established Church in providing no machinery by which her members could supply the wants of their own communion, unhampered by the interference of those who declined to contribute towards her support.
§ MR. ALCOCK
said, that the patience of the country had been completely exhausted on this subject. Twenty-five years ago it was admitted that of the sum of £550,000 which was then annually levied for church rates, more than one-half was an abuse, and since that time every successive Government, with the single exception, perhaps, of that of the Earl of Derby, had promised to settle this vexed question, and the people of England now knew that they must trust to their own exertions alone if they ever wished to see the required change effected. In 1832 two-thirds of the first Session of the reformed Parliament were occupied by the discussion on Irish tithes and Irish church cess) and the result was, that both of those questions were settled within two years—the Duke of Wellington and the then Bishop of London supporting the change.
§ MR. BIGGS
said, he had no conscientious feeling with respect to church rates, but he believed that their continuance was utterly inconsistent with good government and with the discharge of the proper duties of the magistracy. In the town he had the honour to represent (Leicester) there were no church rates, for his constituents had abrogated the law for themselves seven years ago. In that town, 569 however, fifteen years ago, a gentleman named Baines had had a warrant served on him for church rates; he declined to pay those rates, and was cited into the Ecclesiastical Court, and afterwards sent to the county gaol, where he lay far six months, and would have still lain there if it had not been for himself. This was the first time the public had heard of the matter. He and some others had subscribed about £50; the money was sent privately, and no one in the town to this day knew the process by which he was liberated. In 1841 and 1848 he was called on to keep the peace in his town, for when there was a sale of goods seized for church rates, 2,000 or 3,000 people collected, and nobody would bid for the goods. At one time there were many thousands of chartists in the streets, and was he to risk the peace of the town by levying for church rates? What was he to do? Why he gave the magistrate's clerk a blank cheque to use as he liked. It was used in the last extremity. It was like oil poured upon the waters and peace was obtained. He was once upon the bench when there were six magistrates there, four of whom were in favour of church rates. The whole six magistrates were invited to dinner at the same house; and as the warrants for some church rates could not be signed at the bench because the dinner hour had arrived before they were prepared, they were taken down to the gentleman's house where they were dining, and were signed on the very table which might, perhaps, be seized, for the gentleman was a defaulter. Three of his brother magistrates felt that they could not conscientiously pay these rates, and they had been seized on, and for a few shillings half a dozen sheep had been seized, killed, and sacrificed. He looked upon this rate as a civil impost, a civil injustice, though he did not care conscientiously one jot about church rates, At length the church-wardens became ashamed of levying for church rates, and gave a hint that if a voluntary rate were given, they would not levy church rates, and then the very gentlemen who had objected came forward and subscribed, for they, like himself, and others who had travelled over the continent of Europe and America, loved the glorious old fabrics of the village churches of old England, and would not allow them to fall into (lust on any account whatever.
§ Question put,—"That Clause I stand part of the Bill,"570
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 227; Noes 153: Majority 74.
§ Clause agreed to; as was also Clause 2.
§ Clause 3, providing that the Act should not extend to Scotland or Ireland.
§ LORD ROBERT CECIL
said he would move the omission of the words "Scotland or." If the principle were true in England that Dissenter's should not be called upon to contribute to the support of the Church, he saw no reason why the same exemption should not be extended to the Dissenters in Scotland.
§ MR. CUMMING BRUCE
said, he would oppose the Amendment. The people of Scotland did not desire the proposed exemption. They considered it their duty to support the Established Church as the church of the poor, and did not wish to see its energies crippled,
§ SIR JOHN TRELAWNY
had no objection to extend to the Dissenter's of Scotland the same relief which the Bill granted to the Dissenters of England; but he thought it would be necessary to introduce a separate measure for that purpose.
said, he did not understand the meaning of the clause, because while it said that the Act should not extend to Scotland or Ireland, the first clause provided that no church rate should be made or levied in any parish in England or Wales. He would recommend that the clause should be struck out altogether.
§ LORD ROBERT CECIL
said, that as the clause was nonsensical any Amendment upon it must be nonsensical too. He, therefore begged to withdraw his Amendment.
§ MR. PALK
said, he had given notice of an Amendment, which he hoped would have conciliated both sides of the House. The object of it was to allow the churchwardens, with consent of the vestry, to raise such sums from time to time as might be required for the maintenance of the fabric of the church, and to charge the same on all property within their parish. He thought such a provision only just towards the members of the Church, but after the division which had taken place, and in the present temper of the House, it was not now his intention to move it, believing 571 that, as the Bill was tinged with the greatest illiberality, it would be defeated in another place, and that then the House would be more inclined to listen to the voice of justice and reason.
Clause 3 put and negatived.
SIR ARTHUR ELTON moved a clause, providing,
That any church rate made before the passing of this Act, and since the 1st of January, 1838, may be collected and recovered in the same way as if this Act had not been passed.
He said, that unless such a provision were adopted great inconvenience would result. He had also given notice of his intention to move another clause to allow the parishioners to make a voluntary rate, and enacting that those who refused or neglected to pay the same should not be entitled to vote at any vestry summoned for the transaction of church business for the space of eighteen months. He thought that the professed friends of the Church would do well now to make some terms of settlement which would be fair. In most agricultural parishes church rates would be collected much as at present, only they would be the voluntary offering of free hearts instead of a compulsory contribution, collected under the pressure of a distress warrant.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
asked why the operation of the clause was limited to rates made after the 1st of January, 1858?
§ SIR ARTHUR ELTON
said, it was necessary to fix some time, and therefore he fixed the first day of the year.
§ MR. GLADSTONE
proposed, that the words "since the 1st of January, 1858," should be omitted.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
SIR ARTHUR ELTON moved the following additional clause:—
The churchwardens of every parish in England and Wales shall, some day in the month of in each year, give an account to the parishioners at a vestry meeting of all money they have received, and also of all they have expended in repairs and otherwise, for the use of the Church during the past year; and, the said account having been allowed by the parishioners, the churchwardens shall lay before them an estimate of the cost of repairing the church and churchyard, and conducting public worship for the ensuing year; and it shall be lawful for the said churchwardens and parishioners to make a voluntary rate upon the occupiers of all property now liable to church rates in such parish, for the pur-purpose of defraying the amount of the said estimate. Provided always, that no occupier of such
property, who shall have refused or neglected to pay the said voluntary rate, after the same has been duly demanded of him, shall be entitled to vote at any vestry summoned for the transaction of Church business for the space of eighteen months.
§ SIR JOHN TRELAWNY
said, he must oppose the clause on the ground that it would tend to confusion in the law. As far as he understood the evidence of Dr. Lushington before the Committee, the Bill as it stood, would not remove the existing machinery for the repair of churches. Members of the Church might, if they chose, put funds into the hands of the churchwardens, who were bound, so long as money accrued to them, to apply it to the maintenance of the fabric.
SIR WILLIAM HEATIICOTE
said, he thought they ought to pay great attention to the hon. Baronet (Sir A. Elton), for no one could doubt his sincere desire to benefit the Church of England. Moreover, now they had won their victory, there seemed to be a greater disposition on the other side of the House than existed before to make a conciliatory arrangement respecting this question. With the speech of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Fox) in his mind, he would suggest to the hon. Baronet (Sir A. Elton) the propriety of withdrawing this clause and substituting for it upon the Report one framed on the principle which the hon. Member said he was ready to support—namely, that there should be the power of raising the rates by a compulsory process, which process, however, should only be applicable to such persons as chose to subject themselves to it. [Laughter.] Perhaps he had expressed himself awkwardly, but the principle alluded to by the hon. Member was not at all to be ridiculed, providing, as it did, that the rate should be rendered compulsory in its operation upon persons who entered their names as members of the Church of England. He believed that if this principle were adopted it would be more satisfactory to the hon. Baronet (Sir A. Elton) than even his own suggestion.
§ SIR ARTHUR ELTON
said, he was unable to go along with the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Fox) in the point mentioned by him, and could not sanction any proposal to subject one section of the community to a compulsory tax from which all others would be free. As to the objection that the clause would create confusion, Sir William Clay had taken great care in his Bill of 1854 to provide that the action and jurisdiction of the church. wardens should be maintained, and he (Sir 573 A. Elton) considered that his proposal was a necessary complement of the present measure. His desire was that the churchwardens should remain as they now were—guardians of the fabric of the church, and responsible for the conduct of public worship. He would therefore allow churchwardens and parishioners to meet fairly together in vestry, look over the accounts, calculate what amount would be required for the service of the ensuing year, and make a rate, the payment of which was not compulsory in any court of law, but was left to the option of the parties. Any one who paid this rate should be considered, for vestry purposes, a Churchman; and if this were enacted he believed that many Dissenters would pay the voluntary rate in order to obtain the privilege of taking part in the proceedings of the vestry.
§ MR. LABOUCHERE
said, he agreed with the hon. Baronet in thinking that if church rates were to cease as a compulsory payment by Dissenters, they should not be extorted from any other section of the community. In the interest of the Church itself he would carefully avoid drawing a line between Churchmen and Dissenters in this particular. At the same time, consistently with that object, it would be a reasonable thing—especially in those country parishes where people would be generally willing to contribute towards the maintenance of the fabric—to provide some local machinery whereby funds could be collected and applied. The point was one which required consideration, but it would be highly desirable to allow the present machinery to stand so that it might he made available throughout the country. He would, therefore, suggest that the hon. Baronet should carefully consider the terms of his clause, and put it into a shape which would not be liable to objection.
§ MR. HENLEY
said, the object which the hon. Baronet the Member for Bath (Sir A. Elton) had in view was one, no doubt, of a very praiseworthy character, and it was extremely natural that having lent his aid to destroy the means by which the fabric of the church was supported he should not be perfectly satisfied with the position in which matters, under those altered circumstances, would stand. The hon. Baronet the Member for Tavistock (Sir J. Trelawny) had in his (Mr. Henley's) opinion very properly contended that the effect of the proposed clause would be to make confusion worse confounded, and he felt assured that if the 574 right hon. Gentleman who had just spoken would take the trouble to read it, he would find that its probable effect would be to defeat the object which its mover had in view. It made no provision for ascertaining beforeh and who would be willing to pay, while it gave to the churchwardens power to levy a rate upon the occupiers of all property now liable to church rates; that was to say, upon Dissenters as well as Churchmen—thus adopting a course calculated to stir up those angry feelings which everybody must be anxious to see for ever extinguished. Well, let him suppose that the parishioners of a particular parish consisted of half Churchmen and half Dissenters. The churchwardens would call them all together, and perhaps include an architect in the consulting body. It would be agreed, say, that a sum of £100 was required; but then it would be found that only one-half the parishioners would pay, so that a sum of only £50 would be forthcoming. He could not conceive a clause that would be likely to lead to greater confusion. He should like to see, in proper form, a clause such as the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Fox) proposed. One could understand such a clause as that. It would, at least, have the merit of securing that the number of people who put down their names should pay the amounts required of them. There was something feasible in that, but he could not see the advantages of creating an expensive machinery which would creating an expensive machinery which would bind nobody. He thought the principle of the clause now before the Committee would not work, and having a strong opinion upon the matter he should vote against the clause, for he did not think it would be creditable to the Legislature to send such a specimen of legislation to the country.
§ MR. CROSSLEY
said, he could not understand the generosity of justice. If a thing was just there was no generosity in doing it. He could tell the House that it was perfectly useless to apply to the Legislature to pass an act to enable people to do a voluntary act. There was no occasion for an act if it was not to contain something compulsory. The speech of the hon. Baronet the Member for the University of Oxford (Sir W. Heathcote) showed great ignorance of the voluntary system. There was no use in going to people for a voluntary rate and telling them that their share was so much. He should recommend those hon. Gentlemen who were anxious that the Established Church 575 should flourish, to pause before they vested in the churchwardens a power to levy a rate which all who did not pay would, as it were, be turned out of the Established Church and made Dissenters.
§ MR. MELLOR
maintained that the clause was inconsistent in terms, and would give no greater power than the law as it stood conferred.
§ MR. COLLINS
said, he had great faith in the voluntary principle, and did not believe that there would be those difficulties in the way of the operation of the clause which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley) seemed to suppose. The majority of the people in rural parishes were not a very fluctuating body, and it would soon be known what proportion of them were likely to contribute their quota, and who were not. He hoped the hon. Baronet would press his Amendment to a division.
§ SIR ARTHUR ELTON
said, that after the discussion which had taken place he should not press the clause, but would give his best consideration to its provisions with a view, if possible, of reducing it into a more workable shape, and then re-introduce it on the Report.
Bill reported as amended, to be considered on Tuesday next.