§ MR. WALPOLE
rose to call the attention of the House to certain Papers relative to Church Rates which have been laid upon the Table of the House by Her Majesty's command, and to submit a measure to the House on that subject: and said—Sir, I have to bring forward a question in respect of which a long agitation in the public mind necessarily causes me to feel much anxiety and hesitation. I feel that the duty I have to perform on the present occasion is no ordinary one; for on the part of Her Majesty's Government I have to undertake what at all times would have been a difficult task, but what after all the controversy that has arisen upon the subject, will, unless I receive the forbearance and indulgence of the House, be, I must say, almost an impossibility. I am about to propose, on the part of the Government, what I believe will be a just, a moderate and a reasonable settlement of a question which has baffled hitherto, and which, except for that assistance which, I shall freely acknowledge, we have received from others, I believe might baffle still the most earnest efforts of statesmen and of Parliament. But with that assistance I do not despair that some settlement may be come to which at the same time will prove satisfactory to Churchmen and also to Dissenters. The House will remember that this question 611 has long been considered one of which it was obligatory, for the Government to undertake the settlement. It is nearly twenty-five years since the greatest Minister of modern times said, that this question was one which admitted of no delay; that it required an immediate and a practical adjustment; that for the satisfaction of the great body of the people, in the interests of the Church, for the maintenance of social harmony, and to preserve obedience and subordination to the law, the Government entrusted with the management of affairs was bound to take the question in hand at once, in order that it might not remain during another twelvemonth a theme for parochial meetings and a subject of resistance for parochial martyrs. When I find such an opinion delivered by such a man—when I remember all the Administrations that have succeeded him in the twenty-four years that have since passed over our heads—and when I see that during that time nothing has been done in relation to that question except to renew agitation and controversy upon it, I feel more than ordinarily anxious lest this Administration should now neglect its duty, even while proposing what might not have been, perhaps, in the commencement of these debates the best settlement of the question, but which would then have been a good settlement, and I believe is now the only practical mode of bringing it to a conclusion.
While alluding to what I have found calculated to discourage me, the House will permit me to point to one circumstance, which tends to give me confidence. I refer to the tone and spirit in which the question was debated in the discussions of last Session. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Morpeth (Sir G. Grey) who proposed the abolition of church rates, was anxious that some substitute should be found for them before the abolition was made. From every quarter of the House a strong desire was expressed to see if some substitute could not be found. When the Bill went up to the other House of Parliament strong expressions no doubt were used against the measure, which was a measure brought forward for a total abolition; but equally strong opinions were expressed there—equally by the noble Duke who brought forward the question, as by other noble Peers—in favour of a settlement. Such being the position in which we were placed, my noble Friend at the head of the Government 612 stated, no doubt in strong language and with powerful argument, that the Bill was one which nobody could accept, who felt what I think all of us ought to feel—the duty of maintaining the rights of prescription from time immemorial, and who would not desire to repudiate for himself or for the landowners of the country a charge fairly resting upon the property of the country from the payment of which it ought not to be absolved. My noble Friend urged with equally powerful argument that it was for the benefit of the poor man that you should not deprive the Established Church or the country of the means of keeping up those fabrics which are a greater blessing, I believe, to the poor than to the rich whose estates are taxed for their support. At the same time my noble Friend held out, and wisely held out, encouragement for those who looked to a settlement, and did intimate in the plainest terms a manifest desire on the part of the Government to see in what way this controversy could be concluded. My noble Friend remarked, "I will venture to say to Dissenters on the part of the Church, and I believe I may say on the part of the Government, that we will meet them with the most conciliatory feeling. "But," he added, and "but" I may add also, "unless some prospect is held out to us that we shall be met by them in the same spirit, we must maintain the law as it stands." That law, as it stands, is plain and clear; and the inconvenience of that law is equally plain and clear. In substance, that law, so plain and so clear, has by the highest tribunals in this country been declared to be a law which imposes an imperative obligation upon the parishioners of every parish to maintain the fabric of their church. These are very nearly the words of Lord Chancellor Truro when pronouncing his judgment on the subject. At the same time, Sir, I think it cannot be denied that that law has now some inconveniences. It was made at a time when the whole population of the country was of one mind in matters of religion. That law is not now the expression of the religious opinion of the time; and some opinions on these matters are not, unfortunately, now universal. Since we are not unanimous on them—and since, in consequence, persons not belonging to the Church do not derive the benefit which the Church by its ordinances can give, what could formerly be said with truth no longer applies. The Church does not impart to 613 the Dissenters, except indirectly, those advantages which she formerly imparted to the entire people.
Before, Sir, we can approach to the consideration of a settlement it is necessary to make ourselves thoroughly acquainted with the case as it now stands. In order to do this, I hope the House will allow tee to refer to Returns presented to this House, and which are to be found in our Blue-books and from other sources. I shall first refer to the Return presented in 1852, and which was for the eighteen years preceding, or from 1833 to 1851. I shall afterwards refer to the Return presented in 1856, and which was for the fifteen years preceding that year. The Return of 1852 sets out that cities and Parliamentary boroughs in which the rate was made or levied front Easter, 1833, to Easter, 1851. From this Return it appears that out of 1,047 parishes, from which Returns were sent, there were only 216 in which church rates were actually refused during the whole period of eighteen years. That, no doubt, was a limited Return, confined to 1,047 parishes. I now come to the Return of 1856, the summary of which I take not from the Blue-book, as there is some difference in the figures, but from a Return which I am informed is substantially a correct one. It appears that this Return, extending over fifteen years, came from 9,672 parishes. How many of these does the House imagine granted the rate, and how many refused it? Of these 9,672 parishes, 8,260 granted the rate, 408 refused it, 444 gave dubious replies, and 544 had provision made for church repairs from other sources; so that not one-tenth of the parishes from which this Return was made had refused this rate for the period of fifteen years. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey), when this Return was referred to two years ago, made an observation which produced a great effect in the House at the time. He said—It is true that not one-tenth of those parishes refused the rate; but what about the populations?I think the right hon. Baronet will see that you cannot apply the test of population in this case. if the tax were a general one, extending over the whole population, then the test of population would be a just one; but where it is leviable over a vast number of minute sections, and each section has the power to answer the levy by giving or by refusing the rate, the number 614 of parishes that have exercised the right of withholding it, or have refused to exercise it, and not the respective populations, afford the correct test. The parishes that refused to make the rate were only 408 in number. Now, considering that such church rates have been a charge on persons in respect of property from time immemorial, it does seem to me one of the most extraordinary propositions ever announced, that, for the sake of 408 parishes which have refused to obey the law, you are to deprive the remaining 8280 of the privilege of continuing to obey it. But there is another remark I have to make in reference to that Return, and it will be important with regard to some observations I shall by-and-by have to offer to the House. It appears from that Return that there are forty-one places which had refused the rate before and which have since paid it. This is an important fact which I wish you to bear in mind, as I shall make use of it when I come to the substitute which I shall have to submit to your notice.
I now come to a different Return, giving the amount of expenditure under three heads. First, for the fabric of the church; secondly, for the celebration of Divine worship; thirdly, for other purposes. It gives, in addition, the sources from which the money has been supplied; and this it also gives under three heads. Firstly, front rates; secondly, from endowments; thirdly, from voluntary subscriptions. Since that Return was laid on the table I have a subsequent Return from 500 parishes. It will make no difference, or very little, whether I take the statistics from the Bluebook minus those 500, or whether I make my statement more perfect by adding that number. The amount of annual average expenditure on the fabric of the churches is £321,000—I leave out the fractions of the hundred—the average for the celebration of Divine worship is £172,000; the average for other purposes is £94,000. And I find there were received front rates an annual average of £261,000; from endowments, £45,000; from voluntary subscriptions, £262,000.
Now, I stop here for one moment to remark the proportion between the voluntary subscriptions and the money raised by rates. in those 10,500 parishes £261,000 was raised by rates; £262,000 was raised by voluntary contributions. ["Hear, hear!" from the Opposition benches.] I am exceedingly glad to hear that cheer, because before I come to the conclusion I intend to 615 make use of that circumstance as the foundation of part of the Government measure. There is another fact I wish to point out to you, and it is a very important one. That Return gives you the number of Churchmen, as compared with the Dissenters; it also gives a statement whether the property in the parish is much or little subdivided. These two returns I am taking from the blue-books, for I have not yet the analysis of the subsequent returns from the 500 parishes I have just adverted to. It appears that the landowners in 1367 of these parishes were all of them Churchmen; in 7436 the landowners were Churchmen generally; the Dissenters and Churchmen were about equal in 1050 parishes; and as to 353 there was no return on this head. So that out of 10,206 parishes there were 8803 of those parishes the landowners of which are Churchmen generally; 1050 partly Churchmen and partly Dissenters; and 353 were not stated. Observe the enormous proportion of the landowners who were Churchmen in those parishes. I then take the divisions and subdivisions of the property. It appears that in 5750 parishes the property is in very few hands; in 1480 it is subdivided; in 2713 it is much subdivided. I mention these facts because I intend to rely on them afterwards. The result then is this, in round numbers, and, taking a general view of the question, that out of 10,500 parishes £261,000 per annum is contributed by rates, and £262,000 by voluntary benefactions; the greater part of the landowners in the parishes are Churchmen, and the property is in the hands of proportionably few persons. And these circumstances will facilitate the proposition I shall make to you hereafter. These are the results of the Returns before you; and I think it will encourage us in two inferences. The one is, that since there is a charge upon persons in respect of property, and those persons are principally Churchmen, the plea of conscience is not a strong plea for doing away with a charge that has existed from time immemorial. The second inference is, that since it appears that by voluntary contributions large sums are now raised for the purpose of supporting the fabric it will be wise in the House and in Parliament, as far as it can, to look to voluntary benefactions to get rid of a complaint which is made when the payment is compulsory.
Now, in discussing the question, whether any remedy can be found, I must ask the 616 House for a few minutes' indulgence while I endeavour to exhaust the different modes hitherto suggested, and to reduce us, as I think I shall, to the only mode, or the only modes which, taken together, can now be propounded on the subject. The first remedy sought to be applied was in 1834. That was a proposition of Lord Althorp in which he suggested that the land tax, to the extent of £250,000 a year, should be charged with the sustentation of the fabric of the churches. The objection to that was obvious. After the land tax is partially redeemed, if you apply £250,000 a year of the unredeemed part of the land tax to the support of the fabric you are taxing one portion of the landowners, and one portion only, to do that for which the whole are liable. That scheme was so objectionable that it was given up. The second was made by the present Lord Monteagle, when Chancellor of the Exchequer. His proposition was that you should arrive, if you could, at the improved value of church property, and that you should charge that property to the extent of £500,000 a year for the purpose of affording the necessary funds. The objection to that was twofold—first, that it was unjust; secondly, that it was improvident. It was unjust, because, in fact, you were transferring a charge from the laity to the clergy, and were giving every landlord a receipt in full for a debt not a single farthing of which he would have paid. It was improvident, because it was taking away the only available means you had to meet the religious destitution of the country by anticipating the funds in the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, which funds at this moment are not nearly equal to keep pace with our ever-increasing population; and unless you husband these funds for the purpose of augmenting the small livings and for the purpose of providing further pastoral superintendence and care, you will not have the means of making your religious instruction keep pace with the wants of the people. The third remedy was that of Sir Robert Peel. His proposition was never reduced to the shape of a Bill; but the proposition was to throw the charge on the Consolidated Fund. To this objections were immediately taken. Independently of the objection that the landlords would thereby be relieved to the extent of many millions of charge on their property, there was the objection, an objection constantly raised in this House till it has become almost an universal rule, that we 617 ought not to impose on the general taxation of the country a charge to be applied for the performance of any special religious duties. That objection was long deemed to be so forcible that Sir Robert Peel, although he said that no Government was fit to be entrusted with the management of public affairs unless it tried to make a settlement of this question, never ventured in the plenitude of his power, and during the five years when he might have carried a measure, to bring forward the subject. And so it has fallen into weaker and inferior hands, but with the same obligation to attempt to satisfy the public expectations and to effect a definite settlement. After that we come to the year 1849, when the hon. Baronet the Member for Tavistock (Sir John Trelawny) first began his career in attempting to deal with this difficult question. He moved a Resolution—That it is the opinion of the House that effectual measures should be immediately taken for the abolition of Church Rates.To that proposition an Amendment was made by one who is as good a Churchman as he is liberal as a politician. The Amendment I refer to was that moved by the present Vice Chancellor, Sir William Page Wood, and it was to omit the words "the abolition of church rates," and to substitute for them the words "discharging persons dissenting from the Church as by Law established from contributing to Church Rates, and from taking any part in levying, assessing, or administering the same." That proposition was in conformity with the proposition previously made by the hon. Member for Finsbury, (Mr. T. Duncombe.) It was lost by an enormous majority. There only voted for the Amendment 20 Members, while against it there were 183. But, Sir, that proposition afterwards gained ground; and in the year 1853 Dr. Phillimore renewed it by laying a Bill on the table of the House. That Bill was supported by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir James Graham), the noble Lord the Member for the City of London (Lord John Russell), the noble Viscount the Member for Tiverton (Viscount Palmerston), by both the Members for the University of Oxford (Sir William Heathcote and Mr. Gladstone), and by no less than 185 Members of this House. So that the proposition which, when first launched, obtained only the votes of 20 Members had gained ground in four years to such an extent that on a division there were in its favour 618 185 Members, the first men in the House going with them into the same lobby. That proposition, however, was lost, for the House rejected it by 207 votes against the 185. The next proposition made on this subject emanated from the right rev. Bench. I hold in my hand the Bill that was laid on the table of the House of Lords in 1855. The right rev. Bench then proposed that a machinery should be framed for time purpose of ascertaining whether parishes would rate themselves or not; and that if, after monition or citation, they refused to pay church rates for either two or three years—I forget exactly which period—church rates should cease in those parishes, and those parishes should become subject to the provisions of the Bill. The provisions were, that the incumbent and those who frequented time church, and other parties who were friendly to the Church, should compose a church vestry for the purpose of raising by voluntary contributions the necessary sum to support the fabric. Now that proposition was, in my opinion, good in its object, but bad in its starting point. It was good in its object, because it sought to substitute for a compulsory payment a voluntary contribution. It was bad in its starting point, because in point of fact it held out a premium for agitation throughout the length and breadth of the land. It would have increased the strife and ill-feeling that exist in the country on the subject, and it would have induced every parish to have made every effort to get rid of the burden by any means that it could devise. That proposition received no countenance in the other House, and certainly was not responded to in this. In the following year the right hon. Baronet, the Member for Morpeth (Sir G. Grey) adopted the proposition to a certain extent. I regretted it then, and I regret it now, though I think that at the time he added to the proposition another, for which he is entitled to the gratitude of every man who thinks on the subject and wishes to settle it. The right hon. Baronet proposed that in parishes where church rates had not been levied for five years it should be declared by Parliament that they should cease for the future. He also proposed that when a rate had not been levied for two years more it should not be levied again. These two propositions are open to the objections I have already presented, and I will not repeat them now. But the right hon. Baronet had another proposition, namely, 619 that you might, by the repeal of the laws of mortmain, create a charge upon the land as a permanent charge without exposing parishes year after year to the present annual broils. That, I think, was the effect of the right hon. Baronet's proposition.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
A power was given voluntarily to make a charge upon the property to a limited amount.
§ MR. WALPOLE
I am quite aware of that; but in stating the proposition which was thus made to us I was wishing to pay a compliment to the right hon. Baronet, and to give him the credit of what will constitute a part of the measure I am about to ask leave to introduce. I do not desire to take any credit for any part of the measure which does not belong to the Government or to myself. But it is the duty of Government to examine the propositions which are made to Parliament, to watch the reasonable and the unreasonable, to distinguish between the two, and to give credit, as I desire to do, to those who first originate the good. Now I have gone through all these propositions that have been brought forward in Parliament excepting one. That was a proposition of my hon. Friend the Member for Hertfordshire (Mr. Puller). Those in the House last year will not fail to remember the very powerful arguments and convincing speech which he then made against the absolute abolition of church rates. I wish he had been more fortunate in the substitute he offered for church rates, for to that substitute I could not then and I cannot now agree. The substitute was this:—That you should put upon all the land of the country one charge, equal upon all, that would raise the church rates necessary for the sustentation of the fabric. The objection to that plan is this—and it is similar to the objection to many plans which have been sent in to me for placing the church rates on the county rate or the poor rate and making them part of it—the objection to that plan was, that if we transferred the charge which has always rested on property in certain amounts and in certain proportions to other property which was not necessarily subject to that charge, that you put a compulsory obligation to pay the rate on land which might not have been to that extent previously liable.
I have gone through those propositions for the purpose, first to eliminate from them those plans which I am sure this House neither will nor, as I think, ought to agree to; secondly, in order to bring 620 us to the only practical and reasonable solution of the question. I think the result of the examination may fairly be described as follows:—In the first place, I think we all agree to reject all the plans which would transfer the charge from the property now liable to it to any property which is not liable to it at present. In the second place, I think we should agree to reject all plans which would attempt to throw the charge upon the public taxes of the country; because it would be acting contrary to the principle which seems now to be clearly recognized, that we shall not impose on the public taxation the burden of paying for any special religious obligations. In the third place, I think we shall all agree to reject any plan—at least, I think, we shall most of us agree to reject any plan—which would attempt to transfer from the landowners of the country to the revenues of the Church a charge which the land has always paid, and I think ever would willingly pay, rather than dry up those resources still left to the Church, by means of which you may provide for the spiritual wants of the people, and which are not at this moment more than sufficient, or anything like sufficient, to meet the wants to the extent required. In the fourth place, I think we should reject all plans which, like those proposed by Sir William Clay—by the way, I omitted mentioning the proposition which he made to the House—but I think we should reject all plans like the one proposed by Sir William Clay, for attempting, as the substitute for the legal obligation of church rates, the payment by means of pew rents. Of all the plans ever yet devised that is the most objectionable. If an Established Church means anything, it means a Church, which in every town, in every parish, in every village in the kingdom ought to be free and open to all—it means that part of your Establishment, in connection with the other part of your system, namely, the payment of the tithes, which enables you to furnish to every poor man in the country who wishes to receive the blessings and ordinances of religion, a free opportunity of enjoying those blessings without money and without price. Whoever may produce that plan again, I hope that it will meet with the condemnation which I find by your cheers it receives now, and I trust that Parliament will never agree to it or listen to it. In the fifth place, I would exclude one other plan, and that is the plan which would declare 621 that church rates are to be abolished on the success of an agitation. We are attempting to settle the question peaceably; but if you leave the elements of strife and disorder—if you cannot make a pacific settlement—if you attempt a settlement which is only to increase existing agitation and strife—it would be infinitely better to remain as you are than to attempt such a settlement in such a way. I have now nearly exhausted every plan which may be considered; I have not, however, quite exhausted them, for there are two which may yet be mentioned. There is the proposition of the right hon. Baronet (Sir G. Grey)—that, by the repeal of the mortmain laws, and, I will add, by other means, we should endeavour to aid voluntary contributions to the support of the fabric; and, notwithstanding some unfortunate circumstances to which I shall refer, there is also, I think, a means of completing this plan by giving relief to those who are no longer of the established religion, without offending them, and I hope without injuring the Church. It is upon these two bases that the Government intend to rest their propositions.
In the first place then, we propose that power should be given to the owners of land, notwithstanding the mortmain laws, to charge their lands with the amount of church rates which those lands have paid within a period specified in the Bill. In the second place we propose, since church rates are a charge which has existed upon property from time immemorial, that those who have limited estates in their lands should have power to make that perpetual which is now annual; in other words, we propose to give a power of charging their lands not merely to owners of fee, but to tenants for life. In the third place, we propose, in order that the charges thus imposed upon property should not be wasted, to make the incumbent and churchwardens in every parish a corporation for this purpose, with perpetual succession. In the fourth place, we propose to aid these rent-charges by encouraging voluntary subscriptions and benefactions. In the fifth place, we propose, not merely that these subscriptions and benefactions may, at the will of the donor, be kept as a fund in aid of the charges, for the sustentation of the Church, but also that those who contribute them shall have the power of declaring that they will apply their subscriptions and benefactions in exoneration of their lands from the payment that is now due from them. 622 Lastly, with reference to this part of the subject, we propose that when the charges so put upon property voluntarily, with the voluntary subscriptions and benefactions to which I have adverted, shall together equal the amount of the church rate which has been raised in any parish within a certain number of years from the time the rate was last raised, the Queen shall be empowered by Order in Council to declare that church rates in that parish are for ever abolished.
Let me stop here for one moment. You will observe by this, the first part of our proposition, that we do not abandon the legal obligation which rests upon property to answer the debts to which it is liable, but we encourage the owners to pay those debts in a voluntary manner; and as soon as the payment is made complete church rates are for ever swept away in that parish; in other words you have the compulsory payment done away with, and you have a voluntary charge supplied in its place. I know that many people have thought that those voluntary charges will not be made, or that voluntary benefactions will not be given. A wool or two upon each of these points. I told you, at the commencement of my observations, reading from an analysis of the Returns, of the number of Churchmen who were landowners in the parishes to which those Returns related. I told you also how little their properties were subdivided. Take these two facts together, and can you believe that landlords who are Churchmen will not impose upon their lands a charge which, after all, is only a substitute for that which they now pay? Can you believe that they will refuse to do that which will, in point of fact, put an end to a strife which they all desire to see terminated as much as we do ourselves? My own impression is, that the 8,000 landowners in the 10,000 parishes from which Returns have been made, being Churchmen, will unhesitatingly charge their properties to the extent of the church rates which they now pay, so that almost a sufficient fund will be forthcoming from that source alone. But I own I set even more store by the voluntary contributions and benefactions which we propose. I believe that when these contributions and benefactions are allowed to be made, there are many who will come forward to relieve their poorer fellow-parishioners by exonerating their lands from the payment that is now imposed upon them. I am not now speaking upon mere conjecture. Let the 623 House bear in mind that the voluntary contributions made on behalf of the Church during the last fifty years, and especially during the last ten years, are enough to encourage us in broaching a plan like that I have proposed. Is the House aware that from 1800 to 1850 there has been contributed by the State towards Church purposes about £1,600,000; and that, to meet these grants so made by the State, voluntary subscriptions, amounting to nearly £9,000,000 of money have been offered for the benefit of religion? Is the House aware that every year £10,000 is applied from the Queen Anne's Bounty for the benefit of the Church, and that the benefactions which are made to meet it are four times the amount, or £40,000 per annum? In the diocese of Winchester alone £200,000 has been given for Church purposes; and it has been met by benefactions, voluntarily offered, to the extent of £1,500,000. In giving you one or two other facts I know I shall be confirmed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (Sir James Graham), for he and I took a deep interest in the subject when we sat on the Ecclesiastical Commission. Mr. Gally Knight gave £37,000 to be applied by the Commissioners for erecting parsonages and other Church purposes. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners applied that sum in the manner stated, but at the same time resolved to ask for benefactions to meet their contribution, and the result was that voluntarily offers were made to the extent of four times the original gift. Again, when the Ecclesiastical Commissioners found themselves with a surplus, they took advantage of the experience which they had acquired in the matter of the parsonage houses, and determined upon applying their surplus only in consideration of voluntary benefactions being made to meet the public grants. What was the result? In 1857 their surplus was £5,000, and they were enabled to contribute towards the augmentation of small livings to the extent of £12,000. In 1858 their surplus was £18,000, and I believe I do not overstate the fact when I say they were able to obtain nearly £30,000 more. In the present year their surplus amounts to £50,000, and I am credibly informed—and I speak in the presence of my hon. Friend the Member for East Kent (Mr. Deedes)—that it is likely to be increased to the extent of 75 per cent by voluntary contributions, the whole to be expended 624 upon the augmentation of poor benefices. Now, if this be so I think you have everything to encourage you in trying to apply the voluntary principle in aid of the Establishment, so as to get rid of the burden of church rates. But this is not all. By another clause in the Bill we propose, with reference to contracts to be hereafter made, to enable the tenant or occupier of land to deduct any church rate that may be made in respect of such land from the rent payable for the same to his landlord; in other words, to transfer to the man who is legally bound to pay the rate the actual duty of discharging the obligation, and to free the occupier who may not agree with his landlord in religion.
These, then, are two of the propositions that we have to offer to the House. But these propositions would be incomplete unless we also met the only practical grievance that exists—namely, the grievance felt by the conscientious Dissenter. I am one of those who think that the claim of the Dissenter to be exempted front the payment of a charge resting upon his property, strictly speaking, stands neither upon reason nor law. I am one of those who think that if you admit the principle in this instance you must also admit in it reference to the general taxation of the country; and that the objection of Members of the Society of Friends to the application of the public revenues to warlike purposes would be equally entitled to consideration on conscientious grounds. I am one of those who think that, if once you admit that principle, you could not deny it to other persons, such as Protestants who have charges upon their property in favour of the Roman Catholic religion, or Roman Catholics who have charges upon their property in favour of a religion from which they dissent—you could not refuse to them, upon the plea of conscience, the same benefit that you ask for the Dissenter in the matter of church rates. This claim, therefore, on behalf of the Dissenter is one to which I could not consent—that is, to which I could not consent as a matter of strict right. But when I regard the circumstances under which these rates were originally imposed; when I know the fact that all persons in the country were at that time of one mind in matters of religion; when I remember that they had the benefit of the rate as well as made themselves subject to the obligation to pay it; and when I further recollect that all these things are so much altered that the benefit and the 625 obligation do not go together—I will not say that the Dissenter has a claim to exemption from the church rate as a matter of right, but I will say that the Church man may, as a matter of favour and good feeling, extend to the Dissenter an exoneration from the obligation of contributing to a fund from which he derives no benefit. That being so, I am perfectly willing, to subscribe to the Amendment proposed by Sir W. Page Wood, in the first instance, on the Motion made by Dr. Phillimore, and supported by every man of eminence in this House; I am perfectly willing, if it can be done without hurting the feelings of the Dissenter, to say to those who conscientiously object to the payment of the rate, 'I will not burden your consciences, but grant you relief on your making a declaration that you dissent from the Established Church.' To this proposal the Dissenters objected that it ticketed and branded them with a stigma. Now that, I think, was a most unfortunate declaration; for I should have thought that the historical descendants of the old Nonconformists—the successors of those who were proud or avowing their opinions openly and frankly, and were not ashamed to suffer for those opinions—would never, whilst you were offering to relieve their consciences by exempting them from a legal obligation, have turned round upon you and said that you meant to offer them an insult. But, however unfortunate this state of feeling may be, I must still recognize it; and it is our duty, therefore, to see if we cannot so frame this exemption as not to hurt or wound their feelings. And we hope to do it in this way. We propose that when the rate has been made the collector should take round certain papers, one of which shall contain this simple form of words, to be signed by Dissenters:—"I conscientiously object to the payment of church rates." And we propose that the person who makes this declaration shall be exempt from the rate then in course of collection, and that from that time he shall be free from the obligation to pay the charge. But, as a consequence of this, we also think that any person who claims the benefit of exemption from the obligation, should take no part in the vestry meeting which is to consider subsequently the question whether a rate is to be imposed or not, unless he consents to, and has paid some rate before he claims the exercise of that privilege. That, then, is 626 the mode in which we propose to deal with this part of the question.
And the summary is this: that we turn a compulsory into a voluntary payment; that we hope by these means to satisfy the Church, and, at the same time to conciliate the Dissenter; that we throw upon the occupier the right of charging against his landlord the payment of the rate; and that we relieve the Dissenter in the manner which we believe least injurious to the Church, and least offensive to his own feelings.
I said at the beginning of these observations that I feared the time had arrived when a settlement of this question in the best manner that could be devised was hardly practicable; but I think I have submitted to you a proposition which, at all events, considering the difficulties under which we labour, does afford a practical solution of the question in a simple, just, and comprehensive manner. I have only one or two words to add, and they are in the way of appeal to the hon. Baronet the Member for Tavistock. There are now two propositions before the House. You have, in the first place, a proposition for the entire abolition of church rates, without providing a substitute. And you have, in the next place, a proposition which offers you a voluntary substitute, and does violence to the conscience of no man. These two issues are now before you, and I ask you which will you choose? Will you choose to sacrifice all those obligations that rest upon property, merely because you wish to urge a conscientious plea, which no longer applies; or will you meet us in the spirit in winch we endeavour to meet you—the spirit of conciliation, of peace, and of goodwill—and so terminate a controversy which has existed too long, and which I am most anxious, if it be possible, should cease for ever? If you adopt the proposition of the hon. Baronet opposite (Sir J. Trelawny), you will, in point of fact, be asking Parliament to sanction the proposition that we should give up without a substitute a legal obligation which has been imposed, not upon your property, but upon the property of those who first imposed it, and subject to which you obtained it, to maintain the fabric in which were inculcated the ordinances of the Church and the blessings of religion. Everbody in this country is entitled to the ordinances of religion. Give up that right, and you will not be able to distinguish between church 627 rates and tithes in principle; and you must give up the obligations similarly imposed on property to provide for the ministers of religion throughout the land. Give up that, and you give up the religious part of your parochial system; you give up the existence of an Establishment; you Fever the connection between the Church and the State. ["Hear, hear!"] Yes, that cheer proves to me that there are some—though I believe they are very few—who would wish to sever that connection. There are those, I know, who would trust everything to the voluntary principle. And I, also, would trust the voluntary principle, taken in aid of and in conjunction with the obligation due to the Establishment; but taken alone, I am confident it never can and never will reach every part of the country.
The voluntary principle, when taken alone, never can penetrate the remote and more distant districts—it never can meet the wants of those dense populations which, I am sorry to say, even now do not enjoy the benefit religious ordinances to the extent they ought. There are those who support the voluntary principle because they think it will answer all purposes—[Mr. HADFIELD: Hear, hear!]—and believe that religion is to be supplied just as anything else is supplied. The hon. Member for Sheffield is one of those who, possessing immense confidence in their own principles, do not always extend to others the same confidence with regard to the sincerity of their convictions which they claim for themselves. But I will put it to the hon. Member for Sheffield whether even he can apply the rules which ordinarily regulate the acquisition and distribution of wealth to the higher matters of religion and education? ["Hear, hear!"] By his nodding his head I suppose he thinks he can; but let me tell him that, as long as you have to provide for the social and physical wants of man yon will always find a sufficient desire to meet the demands; but when you deal with the higher parts of our nature the reverse is, always has been, and always must be the case. The more ignorant a man is the less he will desire the advantages of knowledge; the more deeply he is sunk in vice and folly, the more opposed will he be to the benefits of religion. It is for that reason that Dr. Chalmers said, in his own fine language—"Christianity must go forth in quest of human nature, for human nature, unprovided and uninstructed, will never go forth 628 in quest of Christianity." Therefore, it that, in accordance with your institutions, you have always insisted upon providing, by means of an Establishment, for religion and religious ordinances; and I contend that you ought not now to give them up unless you are sure that you will get a substitute. My hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone (Mr. Beresford Hope), said the other day that England had now reached all the greatness, all the power, and all the prosperity, materially speaking, of the Roman Empire; and he added this caution, "Now that you have got to this culminating point, take care that you do not fall into the corruption and laxity of morals which led to that empire's decay." My hon. Friend is a classical scholar, and I have no doubt that on this subject his mind has anticipated mine, and that he would remind you that even a heathen poet could warn his fellow-citizens that unless they took care that their temples were kept in proper condition, their prosperity would fade away; that even a heathen poet could say that the greatness of Rome was owing to this—that they always acknowledged, with all humility, a higher Power; that it was from that Power all their greatness sprung, and that unless they maintained His worship the greatest calamities must be their lot.Delicta majorum immeritus lues,Romane, donec templa refeceris,Ædesque labentes Deorum, etFœda nigro simulacra fumo,DÎs te minorem quod geris, imperas.Hine omne principium, huc refer exitum.DÎs multa neglecti dederunt,Hesperiæ mala InetuosæSir, I trust that no Christian poet will ever say of the temples of his country what a heathen poet said of his. I trust that this House will take care to avert such a calamity—that the fabrics of our churches will never be allowed to fall, or to be diverted from the purposes for which they were originally provided; that the ordinances of religion may continue to be provided in them for the benefit of all; that these blessings may be secured by voluntary means and by voluntary efforts; and that while you respect the rights of conscience you will continue to uphold the rights of property; that you will do all this by allaying agitation, by recognising obligations, by satisfying scruples, by reconciling differences. These are the objects—the only objects—which Her Majesty's Government have in view in making 629 this proposition, which from my soul I believe to be a just, a fair, and a reasonable settlement of a complicated question; and having submitted it, we leave to others—we leave to you—the pleasure of adopting or the responsibility of rejecting it. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to bring in a Bill for facilitating voluntary provision for the purposes to which church rates are applicable, and for the extinction of church rates where such provision is made.
§ SIR JOHN TRELAWNY
said he could not but compliment the right hon. Gentleman upon his very able statement and the courteous and conciliatory spirit in which he had made it. He (Sir J. Trelawny) felt the difficulty of the position he should be placed in if he ventured hastily to make any observations on a statement so able and candid, and therefore he did not propose to reply fully to that statement at the present time, but he might remark that the right hon. Gentleman did not seem to him to trust sufficiently to the power of the voluntary principle. He might refer him to his own admissions of what the voluntary principle had done for the Church, especially of late years; and he might also refer to the fact that within the last few years the Free Churchmen in Scotland had raised three millions sterling in support of their Church. The noble Premier had himself stated in "another place" that for the bulk of the agricultural parishes the sum of £28 would, on an average, be sufficient to keep the fabrics of their churches in repair. And could it be believed that the members of the Church of England would allow their churches to fall to the ground rather than make such a sacrifice as that? The hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) lately said that he had never said anything of Churchmen half so hard as they were in the habit of saying of themselves; namely, that if the expense were left to themselves the fabrics of their churches would be allowed to fall into decay. He was therefore for the principle of voluntaryism, and for the entire abolition of church rates, and he had brought in a measure which he believed would prove sufficient for the end in view. He would state frankly what course he proposed to take. He felt he was speaking under considerable responsibility, because it was, no doubt, difficult to rise up on the spur of the moment and state what would be the proper course for hon. Members on that side of the House to take; but he felt, as the 630 right hon. Gentleman did, the importance of having this question settled, and for that reason he had never willingly thrown cold water on any reasonable proposal. The course he considered the wise one to pursue was this. Every one knew the difficulty of an independent Member carrying any measure through Parliament, and, therefore, it was, of course, desirable that Government should have the conduct of the Bill which was to settle the question. At the same time he was naturally favourable to his own plan. But, however events might turn out, he felt sure that if both he and the right hon. Gentleman failed in carrying through a Bill in the course of the present Session the House would become the laughing-stock of the country. He hoped, therefore. that the right hon. Gentleman would allow him to have his Bill read a second time, pro formâ, on Wednesday next, and, in the meantime, he and those with whom he acted would have time to judge of the details of the right hon. Gentleman's measure, and would see whether it was or could be adapted to meet the difficulties of the case. It was quite possible that it might be so adapted. But he could not well judge of the entire bearings of the Government plan from the statement, clear as it was, which the right hon. Gentleman had made. He hoped, therefore, the right hon. Gentleman would allow him time for consideration, and that in the meantime he would allow his Bill to have a second reading without giving hon. Members the trouble to come down to the House on Wednesday to support it. Having made that propositon, which he hoped the Government would assent to, there were two or three remarks on the plan of the right hon. Gentleman which he wished to make; but from his not having an opportunity of making them on Wednesday, it might go forth to the country that the views of the right hon. Gentleman were endorsed by the house. In the first place, those who thought with him believed that the Church of England was disposed to make such sacrifices as were necessary for the support of the fabrics throughout the country, and certainly the right hon. Gentleman when he cited the numerous instances of the liberality of Churchmen seemed to be of the same impression. It was said that to abolish church rates would only be to transfer so much money into the pockets of the landlords, which would be quite preposterous; but the right hon. 631 Gentleman seemed to forget that the noble Earl at the head of the Government, in the case of the sister country, actually took away one-fourth of the property of the Church and transferred it to the pockets of the landlords, who showed themselves perfectly free from prejudice on this point and accepted the gift. The noble Earl had also suppressed ten Irish Bishopricks and abolished vestry cess in Ireland, and the property of the Church was further saddled with the burdens for which the vestry cess was formerly destined. There were several other propositions in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman to which he might take exception. At the end of his speech he said that the church rate was a charge on property, but at the beginning of his speech he said it was a charge on persons in respect of property. On this point, however, the right hon. Gentleman was at issue with a noble Lord in "another place" (Lord St. Leonards), who stated that the title to church rates was as indefeasible as the claim of any gentlemen to his estates. ["Hear!"] Well, but that was not true; and the Gentleman who gave that cheer could never have studied the subject or he would have known that it was not. The church rate was a charge on the person. The remedy being in personam, and not in rem.—the ancient sanction being spiritual censures, pro salute animœ—now exchanged for imprisonment by the Court of Chancery for contempt. It was originally a charge on every individual in the parish, and then it was a charge in respect of the property that he held. One of the four objects for which tithes were imposed in former times was to support the fabric of the church. Now they had a prejudice against applying tithe to the repair of the church, and yet they had no prejudice against applying Church property to Church extension. Because, what had he heard proposed in the House? That Crown livings should be sold, and that the proceeds should be applied to the building of some seventy new churches; and that proposition was indorsed by several of the bishops. How did church rates arise? No one exactly knew. But his belief was that church rates were an incrustation on the old state of things. The Monasteries endeavoured by degrees, by hook or crook, by menace or entreaty, to get possession of a great number of livings. Then came the Reformation, and the Crown got possession of the livings in the hands of the Monasteries, and in this manner the fabrics ceased to 632 be supported by tithes, and a custom probably grew up of asking for a rate which was never a charge on land, but on the person, and that at a time when all men were of the same religion. He thought the proper thing would be to sell the Crown livings, and to apply the proceeds towards the repair of the fabric of the Church. The right hon. Gentleman had made great use of a return which was said to have been made from the different parishes. All through churchmen had been ready to assume that 95 per cent of the parishes had been ready to grant rates. But they forgot that these returns were of a character that excluded a great portion of the population, being a return only for parishes in cities and Parliamentary boroughs. Take one instance. There was the borough of Cambridge. One parish was returned with a population of 1800, and thirteen parishes with a population of 18,000 were omitted. Then, with regard to the amount raised by the church rate. The sum they actually got was about £250,000 a year, but when he came to show them how illegal the rates were that were now enforced, and that in consequence of the existing agitation they would not in future get one fifth as much as they were now getting, the right hon. Gentleman's Bill would be a good bargain for the Church. Now, with respect to the plan which has been submitted to the House by the right hon. Gentleman, he wished to observe that it contained one proposition—that of constituting the churchwardens and incumbent of a parish a corporation for certain purposes—which, in his opinion, was open to serious objection. He took that view because he thought, if carried into effect, that part of the right hon. Gentleman's scheme would be extremely likely to bring clergymen into a constant state of hot water with their flocks, and because he could perceive no advantage likely to result from the proposed corporation which could not be secured by adhering, as far as possible, to the ancient machinery and institutions of the country, according to which two churchwardens protected the rights and interests of the parish. So also with regard to the system of ticketing Dissenters, to which the right hon. Gentleman had adverted, he (Sir J. Trelawny) was afraid that in practice it would be found to be prejudicial to the interests of the Church. He did not mean to say that no measure could be devised which would not give offence; but 633 what he said was that the object of the Church party ought to be to get Dissenters in amongst them rather than exclude them, and that they should be glad to get them to their vestry meetings. The practice of the early Christians was to induce persons "to come in" to the Church. This part of the plan tended to extrude Dissenters. Many a Dissenter would attend the church on some occasions; but once registering himself a Dissenter, he would probably ever after remain apart. He could give an example of the good effect of this conduct in the borough he had the honour to represent. There had been no church rates in that borough for nearly twenty years; and he remembered when the struggle was going on, and when he was a younger man, he used often to smile in pity at the zeal and the bitterness which both parties displayed on this question. Some time after when he went down there he found the clergyman and the church-warden, who he believed was a Dissenter, engaged in devising a plan for a voluntary subscription for the repair of the church, and he afterwards learned that the sum of £1,500 had been raised in the town, and that one Dissenter had given £25 who would have been cut to pieces rather than he would have given sixpence on compulsion. He should not upon that occasion enter further into the merits of the propositions which the right hon. Gentleman had laid before the House, but should conclude by repeating his proposition to have his Bill read a second time on Wednesday without opposition, and expressing a hope that the present Parliament would have the honour and the satisfaction of for ever settling this vexed question.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
I think the general wish of the House must be, that the right hon. Gentleman should be allowed to lay his Bill upon the table this evening, that it may as soon as possible be placed in the hands of hon. Members in a printed form. It would not be desirable, it seems to me, until we have thus been afforded an opportunity of considering it, to discuss its several provisions in detail, or to express any opinion upon the general scheme which the right hon. Gentleman has submitted to our notice. For my own part, however, I must say that I entirely concur with my hon. Friend who has just sat down in the testimony which he bore to the conciliatory tone and spirit by which the speech of the right hon. Gentleman was pervaded, and which I must also say marks the proposi- 634 tions which he has laid before us, so far as I can form a judgment of their general purport and tendency. I am extremely happy to find that the right hon. Gentleman has not taken counsel of those who are desirous of reimposing a church rate in any form, however modified, in those parishes, comprising as they do a large population, in which it has been practically abolished. I have always felt, in dealing with this question, the necessity of recognizing the fact of such abolition in a great portion of the large cities and towns throughout the country; while upon the other hand, it appears to me that to interpose in the case of those parishes in which a church rate is willingly levied by the inhabitants for the necessary repair of the fabric of the church, and to say that they should not at their own option have recourse to the machinery of a church rate in order to raise the required sum, would be an arbitrary step for Parliament to take. Now, with respect to the first class of parishes to which I have referred, the right hon. Gentleman has stated that he objects to all legal abolition of church rates, even in those cases in which they have already been practically done away with, contending that the inhabitants of those parishes are under a common-law obligation to maintain the fabric of the Church. Now, I fully admit that it has been held by the highest judical tribunal that such an obligation does exist; but it has at the same time been decided that the obligation is an imperfect one, and that in the case in which a vestry refuses to grant a rate, there is no means of enforcing it on the parishioners. Now, the right hon. Gentleman, if I have not misunderstood him, proposes to leave the law in that respect unaltered. He does not propose to make that a perfect obligation which is now an imperfect obligation. All that he proposes is to afford facilities for the extinction of church rates in those cases where a rate is at present imposed by the vestry by giving to landowners the power of making it a voluntary charge upon their property. I shall not say one word on the present occasion to discourage the hope expressed by the right hon. Gentleman that his scheme may prove acceptable to Churchmen upon the one hand, and to Dissenters upon the other; on the contrary, I shall give to it a fair and candid consideration, in the earnest desire that the right hon. Gentleman will be found to have framed a measure by which this long- 635 agitated question may at length be satisfactorily settled. I may, perhaps, however, before I sit down, be permitted to call the attention of hon. Members to the great importance of the returns upon this question which, by command of Her Majesty, have been laid upon the table of the House. In the discussions which have taken place out of doors as well as in this House as to the amount of church rates there has been exhibited upon the part of those by whom the rate was supported, as well as by the advocates of its abolition, a tendency to magnify upon the one hand or to diminish upon the other that amount. Its annual amount has been stated as high as £350,000. Now, I hold in my hand a Return which shows that the total amount of the church rate received in 1854 was £314,000. The Return quoted by the right hon. Gentleman, though it does not give the facts as to any particular year, strikes an average of the last seven years, including the year 1854, and how do the figures come out? The receipts from church rates, instead of being £314,000, had diminished, according to the Blue-book, to an average annual amount of £248,838; but, according to the statement of my right hon. Friend, including the 500 parishes omitted from the other Return, the amount is £262,000. Here, then, we have evidence that the annual amount raised by church rates is rapidly diminishing, and I have no doubt, if we could have a Return for the last year, 1858, that fact would be still more apparent. So rapidly is the annual amount raised by church rates diminishing, that I have little doubt, if Parliament were to abstain from doing anything, church rates would soon become practically extinct. The right hon. Gentleman has alluded to the possible effects upon our future history if we abandon our duty of maintaining the churches of the land, but what are the facts as we find them here? The total expenditure in 1854 for the maintenance of the fabric and providing for the service of the church was £464,550, while the average expenditure of the last seven years for the same purposes has been no less than £594,000. Thus, while we have the income from church rates continually decreasing, the general expenditure, derived chiefly from voluntary contributions, had largely increased, showing that the attachment of the people of this country to the Church of England had not diminished, and that they were willing to contribute 636 what was requisite for the maintenance of the fabrics, and for the performance of Divine worship. Therefore, looking at the elasticity of the voluntary principle, I cannot share the apprehensions of those who think that if church rates were abolished the churches would become ruins. I believe they would be maintained, but still I think it would be a harsh act to prevent those numerous parishes which are willing to tax themselves for the purposes of the Church from doing so. Again, the right hon. Gentleman last year gave, as the result of the returns moved for by Sir W. Clay, the parishes where church rates had been refused as about 5 per cent of the whole number; but those returns were exceedingly defective, and I ventured to assume, from other data, that it must be nearer 10 per cent. But what do the returns produced by the right hon. Gentleman himself show? To one of the summaries he has appended a note, stating that the element of church rates entered into 8,115 out of 10,206 parishes, which shows that in 20 per cent of the whole number of parishes the church is supported by other means than church rates. In another column of these returns, which states the condition of the churches in each parish, you will find, I think, as often as not, that where the church is out of repair, it is in a parish where a church rate is levied but which has not been sufficient for the repair of the fabric. If we refer to the deanery of Bradford, where not a shilling is raised by church rates, we find that the state of the churches is "good," and "excellent." It is nearly the same in the deanery of Manchester, where the amount raised by church rates is only £22,000, and the voluntary contributions are £120,000 or £130,000. There the churches are in good repair; and such is the case, also, in Leeds and Newcastle, and other large towns. I trust, therefore, that, with these instances before us, we need not apprehend the consequences which the right hon. Gentleman seems to expect will flow from the ruin of the fabric of our churches, consequent on the abolition of church rates. These returns are very instructive, and will repay any hon. Gentleman who chooses to devote some attention to them, and I think the House is indebted to the right hon. Gentleman for producing them so early in the Session. I shall not now discuss the provisions of the Bill. As I have said, I think it would be inexpedient to 637 express any opinion until we have had an opportunity of considering it. I will only say one word as to the subject of pew-rents. In the scheme which I proposed pew-rents were to be levied to a very modified extent and under certain circumstances. I am not about to contend for the adoption of the principle of pew-rents, but I would remind the House that it is no new scheme, but that, to a very great extent, that system does already prevail in the Church. The right hon. Gentleman gave an eloquent description of the provision made for the poor in every parish church by which they can hear the Gospel preached without any charge, but what is really the case in this city, in London? In the parish of St. George's, Hanover Square, for instance, where do we find the poor, either in the parish church, or in any of the numerous district churches of that parish? Where are they? To say that those churches afford opportunities for the poor to hear the Gospel preached without the payment of money is, I think, rather a poetical than a correct description. In almost every city and town in this country pew rents exist to a greater extent than they ought. The Church Building Acts which have been passed from time to time, and to some of which the right hon. Gentleman himself has been a party, have nearly all contained authority for raising funds from pew-rents, subject to certain restrictions, such as the consent of the Ordinary and the provisions of a certain amount of free accommodation. The system may or may not be one which ought to receive the sanction of Parliament, but I must protest against the description of the present State Church in this respect, as given by the right hon. Gentleman, As I have spoken of the churches in London and large towns and cities, whole the seats are occupied by the rich and those who pay for their sittings, I cannot avoid expressing the satisfaction in which all must share who are interested in the welfare of their fellow countrymen as well as of the Church, at the movement which has recently taken place, by which the magnificent ecclesiastical edifices of the metropolis have been thrown open to all classes of the people. All who have witnessed the throngs which have attended to hear the words of truth and peace preached in those temples must rejoice that at last those splendid buildings are applied to another purpose than the mere gratification derived from display of architectural beauty and excellence. I can 638 only hope that in every cathedral throughout the land these examples will be followed, and the evil of the want of accommodation for the poor in our churches be removed by the same zeal which has led to such beneficial results as we have witnessed here. At present I shall say no more upon this subject, as it is desirable that we should see the Bill in print before we give any opinion upon it.
§ MR. BALL
said, he was happy to recognize the cordial spirit with which the right hon. Gentleman had introduced his measure, and, without committing himself unconditionally to every detail, he thought the proposals he had made were very fair to all parties. He had presented a vast number of petitions against church rates, and those petitions were based upon two grounds—conscientious objections to church rates, and that certain persons paid more than their due, as they paid for the maintenance of their own ministers, and ought not to be called on to support the Church. He was, however, bound to say that the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman had been presented in such a shape, he thought it the duty of those who were in favour of the abolition of that impost to church rates, to express their willingness to assent to it. He had never coincided with those who proposed the abolition of church rates as a means to an end, and who reasoned that if church rates were abolished, tithes would soon follow; and that if tithes were abolished, it would be a principal means of destroying the Church. He had never thought such a thing desirable. He had no hostile feeling towards the Church of England; and in order to carry out the principles he had advocated in that House, he felt compelled to say on this occasion, that he was very much disposed to accept the proposal, which, with certain amendments, he hoped might be the means of putting an end to the unhappy dissensions to which church rates had given rise. At the same time, he hoped it was not intended that Dissenters were to be precluded from attending the parish meetings at which the rates were imposed, if they desired to do so. Whatever tended to keep up differences between Dissenters and Churchmen was an evil, and the House ought to avail itself of every opportunity of breaking down those differences, rather than do aught which might by any possibility result in increasing and strengthening them. With regard to what had sometimes been said about Dissenters being 639 "ticketed," who might, under the change of the existing law, be required to sign a delaration that they were Dissenters, and had a conscientious objection to the payment of church rates, he did not consider that would be any marked reproach, for no man ought to be ashamed of the religious profession he publicly made. It did not much matter what the Dissenters were called; a rose was still a rose, call it by what name they would; but he thought the exclusion of the Dissenters from the vestry meetings would only tend to create bitterness of feeling, and to retard the object which the Bill sought to accomplish. On the other hand, he did not see how the Church of England could be called a "poor man's church." At the last census the number of Dissenters, including Catholics, was ascertained to be greater than that of Churchmen. It was admitted that the rich and the better classes belonged to the Church; and if the Church had the poor as well as the rich, of what class did the Dissenters consist? He had, however, only risen to say that he recognized in the proposal made by the Government an earnest of their good intention to terminate, as far as in them lay, that ill-feeling which had so long existed between the different classes of religionists and done so much harm to religion itself, and he gladly accepted it.
§ SIR ARTHUR ELTON
said, that the measure propounded by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, contained much that was valuable, and deserved the best consideration of the House; but he regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had not boldly crossed the Rubicon and made the abolition of the church rates the basis of his Bill. The right hon. Gentleman proposed to rely upon the liberality of the laity; but he would surely have a better chance of success if he put an end to the impost than by his prudent half-and-half measure, which would only have a tendency to repress the benevolence of the public. He thought, too, that there were many landowners who would prefer giving an annual sum instead of alienating their lands; because, if they took the latter course, they would no longer have any control over the expenditure of their money. Again, if church rates were maintained, the landowners would not come forward and contribute towards the maintenance of the fabrics of the church with that liberality which they would otherwise do. For his own part, however, he would look 640 in future times, not merely to the liberality of the wealthy landowners, but also to the middle classes, and even to the poor, for the maintenance of the parish churches. He hoped hon. Gentlemen had read the Report from the Select Committee of the House of Lords, appointed to inquire into the deficiency of means of spiritual instruction and places of divine worship. They would find there instances of the most touching devotion on the part of the poorer classes towards the Church. The Rev. Mr. Rowsell, the perpetual curate of St. Peter's, Stepney,—which had a population of about 14,000, of whom at least 12,000 were labouring men, including mostly dock labourers, weavers, and costermongers, all of them very poor, and the remainder small shopkeepers—stated that that population, poor though it was, contributed by their pence the large sum of £400 towards the expense of the Church and of divine worship there. The rev. gentleman added that it was not unusual to collect £5 or £6 in halfpence at the offertory. Again, the Rev. Dr. Baylee, the incumbent of Holy Trinity Church, Birkinhead, and the clergy of Liverpool were really accomplishing wonderful things by means of pastoral visitation. They had evoked an amount of Christian feeling and liberality among the poor that was one of the most encouraging signs of the present time. Dr. Baylee mentioned an anecdote connected with a small iron church, in which he performed a service in Welsh for a small congregation of day labourers. On one occasion, these persons, between one and two hundred in number, went of their own accord to their clergyman and begged permission to pay the expenses of their chapel; for which purpose they had collected £14. The House would find a number of similar instances of good feeling on the part of the poor towards the Church, which showed that if clergymen would but appeal to the hearts of the humbler classes of the community, and not only address them as official teachers of religion, but mix with them as friends, they would find a mine of wealth which would of itself go far towards placing the Church above the necessity of levying church rates for the maintenance of its fabrics. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole) had been a little too sweeping in his denunciation of pews. There was a clear distinction to be drawn in this respect between the town and the country. To demand pew-rents in country parishes would raise a perfect storm, and 641 would fill the farming class with loathing and disgust, while it would at the same time practically exclude the poor. On the other hand, they might with safety apply the pew system to town churches, provided that they adopted proper precautions and imposed due limitations. The hon. Baronet (Sir J. Trelawny) was in error when he supposed that the churchwardens were at present a corporation, except under certain special Acts of Parliament, and for certain special purposes. If property were left to the churchwardens of a parish, their successors in office would not inherit it, but it would go to their heirs at law; and therefore it would be absolutely necessary to incorporate them if they were intended to receive do nations or bequests for the future sustentation of the fabric or for the performance of Divine service. Besides, he thought that most persons who wished to leave a portion of their wealth to the Church would prefer that the incumbent should be one of the trustees. Cases in which incumbents were on bad terms with their congregations were now very rare, and he believed that they were every day becoming still fewer. People would, therefore, in most cases, like the clergyman to have a voice in the application of their benefactions, especially in the country, where the churchwardens were often very ignorant, and scarcely able to write their names. The question of a religious qualification for the church vestry was one of great difficulty. He had himself intended to introduce the principle into the Resolutions of which he had given notice; but on further consideration he had determined to suggest that the qualification should simply consist in the payment of a sum of money to be fixed by the vestry itself, or by some other means. As fur the proposal that those only that subscribed to the funds of the Church should have a voice in the distribution of those funds, he need not say a word in its favour. It would, in fact, be in conformity with a maxim that was perfectly well-known and peculiarly English, and he felt certain that if he were to submit the question to any meeting of working men out of doors they would unanimously declare that those only that paid should say how the money was to be spent. There were Dissenters who went even further. Mr. Edward Baines and Mr. Offor, gentlemen of the highest integrity, and both of them Dissenters, had avowed before the church-rate Committee which sat in 1851, that if Dissenters were 642 only relieved from the burden of the rates the Churchmen ought to have the management of the churches. He (Sir A. Elton) would submit, with the greatest respect, that the opinion of two such men as Mr. Baines and Mr. Offer was more deserving of attention than that of mere political Dissenters. He thought the House ought to strive not only to satisfy the reasonable expectations of Dissenters, but to do justice to the Church of England. He would never for one moment allow that the object they should seek in a settlement of this question was the injury or subversion of the Establishment, for he believed that a considerable portion of the Dissenters highly estimated the blessings which the Church conferred, not merely on this country, but as a standard of pure Christianity throughout Europe. Those were its true friends who wished to abolish church rates on fair terms. He believed that any Bill, which would at once afford a just relief to Dissenters, and at the same time give to Churchmen facilities for discharging the new duties cast upon them, would prove generally acceptable. It might be said that in country parishes church rates were collected without difficulty; but every year disputes arose in new parishes for the first time, and frequently the opposition was attended with success. They found agitation increased, placards and handbills instilling hostile feelings profusely scattered, mob-orators inflaming the passions of their audience. Feelings of hostility between class and class were kindled, and party organizations sprang up, consisting, not only of Dissenters, but of Churchmen, and not only of Churchmen but of persons of no religion whatever. This hostile organization was every year becoming more formidable, and, having overcome church rates, it might hereafter attack something of infinitely greater importance. In the meantime the ministrations of the clergy in these parishes were rendered unacceptable, for there was an idea prevalent amongst the less educated combatants, that the rates went in some way into the minister's pocket. Under these circumstances, it would be conferring a benefit to take away so pernicious a source of discord, and remove so great an obstacle and obstruction out 'of the path of the Church of England, and enable her to recover the affections of those who were temporarily estranged, and to continue in that career of usefulness which on the whole had marked 643 her history both in past times and in present.
§ MR. PACKE
said, it was gratifying to find from all sides of the Rouse every disposition to give a favourable consideration to the project of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State. He doubted, however, whether the Government had any good ground for the confidence with which they seemed to expect voluntary contributions. He did not deny that liberal subscriptions might be obtained in all parts of the Kingdom for purposes of Church extension, but they were rather for the purpose of building new churches than for keeping the old in repair. It had been said by the Bishop of London that there was comparatively no difficulty in finding subscriptions and contributions for new churches, but the difficulty was in getting voluntary contributions for the repair of the old ones. Allusion had been made to Manchester and other large towns; but whatever might be done there, he knew that the churches of Loughborough and Melton Mowbray, both structures of remarkable beauty, were falling to decay for want of subscriptions large enough to keep them in repair. His object in rising was to appeal to the hon. Member for Tavistock to postpone the second reading of his Bill, which stood on the paper for Wednesday next, as the Bill of the Government could not be in the hands of hon. Members by that day. It was hardly fair to ask the House to pledge itself to total abolition until they had time to give due consideration to the measure of the right hon. Gentleman.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
said, he quite concurred with his right hon. Friend (Sir George Grey) that it was not desirable that they should go into a discussion of the Bill at the present stage. At the same time he thought it desirable that the House should be put in full possession of all the material parts of the Government plan, in order that, there and elsewhere, it might be fully considered before the time arrived for discussion. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Walpole) had not clearly explained, in his very lucid statement, whether it was intended that in future the vestry should be composed of landowners, and not of occupiers as at present. The principle of the Bill being, as he understood, that the rate should henceforth absolutely and by force of the Bill be a landlord's rate, and cease to be an occupier's rate, he wished to know whether it was intended that the vestry should consist exclusively of landowners? 644 There was another point upon which it was desirable some explanation should be given. If the rate should become a landlord's rate, what regulations would be made in case of more than one landlord—that was to say, when, as often happened, there were, in respect of a house, a ground- landlord, a mean-landlord, and an occupier—which would pay, and which would sit in the vestry?
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE
received with feelings of satisfaction the proposed settlement of the question by the right hon. Gentleman as a measure which seemed eminently practical and moderate. He was not one of those who, like his hon. Friend the Member for Bath (Sir A. Elton), were ready to cross the Rubicon; but he was ready to make as much concession to the conscientious feelings of Dissenters as the hon. Baronet. When, however, that conscientious feeling had been met, as he understood the Bill proposed to do, by freeing those who entertained it from the payment of church rates, then he said, that insisting upon the Church, in respect of its own members, giving up the name of church rate, and all the machinery of a most ancient obligation, which had existed from time immemorial—long before the Norman conquest—was, he thought, being liberal at other people's expense. The hon. Baronet had drawn a touching and true picture of poor men crowding together with their pennies for the sustentation of their parish churches; but, in the same breath, he talked of the unwillingness of the rich to alienate their lands for ever for the same purpose; but surely the two acts were correlative. If he spoke spoke so hopefuly of the spontaneous piety of the poor, could he not suppose also that he Church might rely on some spontaneous piety in the rich man who might enfeoff his parish church for ever out of his lands? His hon. Friend had called the hon. Baronet the Member for Tavistock (Sir J. Trelawny) to task for having talked of the cases of parish clergymen being always in hot water with their flocks, and asserted truly, as he (Mr. Beresford Hope) believed that these were becoming rapidly fewer; but, with some inconsistency, immediately afterwards he spoke of the continually increasing agitation and squabbling about church rates. The proposed Bill was calculated to overcome those contests and acrimonious feelings that arose out of the church-rate question, by enabling the owners of land themselves to get rid, if they chose, 645 of these disputes, and on the other, by freeing the Dissenters of the burdens under which they alleged themselves to be labouring. What was the cause of all the acrimony to which church rates had given rise? Was it not that the Dissenters felt, rightly or wrongly, that they were called upon to pay an impost to which they had a conscientious objection? If, then, the disease were removed, would not the symptoms to which it had given rise also cease? If the simple fact that churchmen had the power to tax themselves for their own purposes, and to call that tax by the Saxon word "rate," constituted the grievance complained of, surely the hon. Member for Birmingham was right when he designated the opposition to church rates "a sentimental grievance." As for the objection which had been raised to "ticketing" the Dissenters, it would be sufficient to say that it did not apply to the proposed scheme. The Bill would only require a person to write on his paper that he had a conscientious objection to pay church rates, a declaration which might be made by a person who approved of the doctrines and discipline of the Church of England, but who had a great regard for his pocket. On the other hand the liberal Dissenter who differed from the Church on some points, but who so far agreed with it as to be willing to afford it help, might again pay rates it he pleased, any other year, and replace himself in a position to take part in Church concerns. This consideration disposed of the argument raised by the hon. Baronet the Member for Tavistock as to the effect which the courteous demeanour of the clergyman sitting at the head of the vestry table, might have in bringing back the Dissenters. He had only to withdraw his objection to paying the rate at any time, and he was again under the influence of that demeanour. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Morpeth had taken the right hon. the Home Secretary to task as regarded pew-rents, and he had also spoken of the large area of parishes in towns where church rates were virtually defunct; but it did not occur to the hon. Baronet as somewhat curious that the many towns in which church rates were refused were those in which the odious system of pew-rents had taken the firmest hold. It was the shutting up the churches from the poor, and building those obnoxious ecclesiastical castles of selfishness and purse-pride, and thrusting away the destitute under the dark corners of gal- 646 leries, or in miserable strips of benches, and exposing them to the vulgar insolence of the beadle in blue and gold, that blue and gold itself being probably paid out of the church rates, that caused the people to be driven over to dissent. These were the people who came hungrily and angrily to the vestry to resist this ancient charge. If there were a clause introduced to prohibit the levying of pew-rents in any parish of 5,000 inhabitants, he believed that one-half or two-thirds of those parishes which had refused the rate would voluntarily come forward to levy one under the exemptions contained in the proposed Bill. It would be premature to discuss the measure at present, more particularly as they were only in possession of a sketch of it; but he supposed that in the provisions of the Bill it would be left voluntarily to the landowners either to compromise their church rate, by charging it on the land, or by paying down a sum of money for certain years' purchase, to be stated. Many persons who were able to command ready money, have their land or property under encumbrances, which they were unwilling to conceal, and others might be more willing to come forward and lay down a sum at once, and let the land without charge, having a number of years' purchase whereon it was settled, so that the Church would be no loser, it being understood that for a given sum of money the same privileges and exemptions in regard to church rates should attach to the land for whose benefit the money was paid, as though it were a rent, charge on it. Another provision which he (Mr. Beresford Hope) wished to see carried was the emancipation of district churches. It ought to be in the power of every landlord to support the church of the district in which his property lies, even though it be not the parish church; or if the district have not obtained the benefit of Lord Blandford's Act, and cannot raise its own church rates, provided only it has a district assigned to it, he ought to be allowed, if he pleased, to make the commutation of church rates in respect of that and not of the mother church. He knew of instances in which persons would willingly come forward for the relief of their district churches when they were unwilling to do it for the parish church. The Bluebook that had been issued showed these cases approximately, but not completely; one, for example, where his own residence was situated was omitted, and no doubt others were. These district churches were 647 very numerous. Many of them had been endowed by the liberality of landowners, who felt themselves more called upon to alienate their property and devote it for the support of their own district churches than for the more distant ones with which they had less connection. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Morpeth had contrasted the last returns with that of fifteen years since, and had argued that church rates were rapidly diminishing everywhere. But the House would recollect, that within these thirty years a great revival of earnestness had taken place all through the country, and that the Church, without distinction of party, was everywhere placing its fabrics in a state of repair and comeliness very different from what used to exist. This, of course, created an extraordinary drain upon the rates, which must have been at its height some ten or twenty years since. But now, from the returns which had been just made, it appeared that the parish churches of the country, in the ratio of 7,000 to 1,000 were in good repair as compared with those that were not; which he (Mr. Beresford Hope) thought was a clear proof that a great stress had been laid upon church rates during the revival of church architecture within the last few years; and that now the churches, having been put in good repair, the rates might be expected henceforward to return to and remain at their normal rate. The true test of this question was, not as to the difference between what church rates now were and what they were fifteen years ago, but the difference between now and a century ago. Making allowance for the difference of population, he believed the case of church rates would not suffer by a comparison of the two periods, and that it would be found that owing to the awakened piety of the present day the rates were paid comparatively ungrudgingly, where they were scantily and grudgingly given in the reign of George II. His hon. Friend (Sir A. Elton) said that gentlemen would not alienate income from their lands to secure the repair of their parish churches; but he might ask how it was, then, that they alienated that income to furnish endowments for the numerous churches that had grown up of late? In conclusion, he trusted that this measure, which had been so much canvassed out of doors, but which had been so well received by the House, would commend itself to the mind of every candid and moderate man, and he trusted that before the end of the Session this great 648 element of popular and religious discord, this figment of faction, this watchword of struggle and anxiety, this hustings cry of church rates, would for once and for ever be set at rest.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
Sir, I have no hesitation in saying that the measure which has been propounded by the right hon. Gentleman has been framed in a most conciliatory spirit, and that a considerable amount of labour has been expended in its preparation; and if I now state some few objections which occur to me, it is not that I think that there was any other course open to the Government so obviously better than that which they have proposed that they ought to have adopted it, but that I wish the right hon. Gentleman to consider, when he proceeds further with this measure, what may be the effect it will produce. With regard to the former part of the proposition, which seems to be taken from certain clauses in the Bill of my right hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth, I think that there can be no objection to it. It may be more or less effective; it may provide more or less well for the future maintenance of the Church, but, at all events, the principle involved is unobjectionable. But, as I followed the right hon. Gentleman's argument, I could not but perceive, with respect to the second part of his measure, by which he proposes to relieve from the payment of church rates all Dissenters who state that they have a conscientious objection to their payment, that he was impairing the principle upon which an Established Church rests, and I think that the right hon. Gentleman must have felt this himself. The right hon. Gentleman said more than once that it was fit that those who had not the benefit of the Established Church should not bear the burden of maintaining it. Now, it has always seemed to me that the whole defence of an Established Church must stand upon this,—not that it is of immediate and direct benefit merely to those who attend its services and hear the preaching of its ministers, but that it is a general benefit to the community at large. I have always considered that, placing in every parish a minister who is not only to preach the Gospel, but who is to hold forth an example of religion and morality in that parish,—who is to tell the people what is in conformity with the morality of the Gospel, and what is not,—who superintends and fosters the schools in which the youth of the parish are educated,—who, upon every occasion 649 when Christian charity can be exerted, is ready with his hand to administer to the wants of those who are deserving objects among whom he lives—I have always, I say, considered that it was a benefit, not to Churchmen exclusively, but to all those who dissent from the Church as well as to all those who conform to it, that there should be in every parish, independently of the caprice, of the generosity, or of the wealth of the persons living in the parish, such a minister of the Gospel. But if that view—which I do not claim as an original one of my own, but which I have borrowed from other and wiser persons—be correct, what logic or reason is there in saying,—"You, the Churchman, have a benefit from the Church, because you go there on a Sunday and listen to Divine service read from the Common Prayer-book, and hear the clergyman deliver a sermon; but your neighbours, who live next door or in the adjoining street, being Dissenters, have no benefit at all, because they do not attend the ministration of that clergyman"? That appears to me to be placing the Established Church upon too narrow and too low a ground. And it is not the argument alone, but it is the proposition, because you obviously say to one, "You are to pay for the repairs of the church, because you have the benefit," and to another, "You, who live next door, are not to pay, because you have no benefit from it whatever." By this proposition you at once change the character of the Church, for you no longer maintain it as a national Church. You may maintain it, if you will, as a powerful Church, as a State Church, as a wealthy Church, nay, as a Church that is diffusing religion and morality among a vast number of people, but you only maintain it after all as the strongest sect of the community. The right hon. Gentleman, I dare say, differs from me in that; but I cannot but consider that when the Earl of Derby placed the charge of the repairs of churches in Ireland, for which provision had been previously made from the Church cess, upon the Church revenues of Ireland, he took a measure much better calculated to support the Established Church in that country than if he had adopted a proposition similar to the present. A second part of this question relates to the practical effect of this measure. if you are unable to maintain church rates; if Parliament is of opinion they cannot be maintained and church rates are abolished—in that way dissensions will cease and there will 650 be no more ill blood. You may maintain your churches not so well, perhaps, as you have done, but at all events you put an end to quarrelling. But here, by this Bill, you go, say, to forty or fifty farmers in a parish, and you permit some twenty of them not to pay church rates, because they have a conscientious objection, while the other thirty are to go on paying in a somewhat aggravated form, and of course to an additional extent. It may be that these farmers ought not to feel any discontent on this account, but I can't help thinking when this begins to operate in a parish, that those farmers will be very apt to say—"This is unfair towards us, there are our neighbours who paid church rates formerly for what we all thought a common benefit—we all imagined that the Established Church was good for us all; but they are relieved, and we have to pay more on their account. The Legislature is acting unfairly towards us, and we shall not go on paying this charge much longer." This is one consequence that may arise. Then, the hon. Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Ball), said very truly, that Dissenters will hardly be satisfied when, in consequence of their not paying church rates, they are refused admission to the vestry. Do you not think that you must, of necessity, create ill blood, when you refuse to admit Dissenters into the parish vestry, and thereby make a distinction which has never been made before? And, in making that distinction, you again mark that your Church is not a National Church—that you have divested it of that character. It appears to me that these considerations are of some value, and it further appears to me if this Bill passes,—and it is, perhaps, the best course that you can adopt at present [cheers],—yes, in the difficulties which surround the question, and which the right hon. Gentleman stated very fairly, it is, I believe, the best resource that you have at present; but I feel convinced that in a very few years after this Bill has been passed, church rates will continue to exist in any shape whatsoever. I ought not to conclude, after making so many objections to the measure, and proposing nothing in its place, without saying that, in spite of the contests that have taken place of late years, in spite of the ill blood that has been excited ill some places by these church rates contests, and by others, of a more polemical and doctrinal nature, my belief is, that there never was a time when the Church of England might rely with more 651 confidence upon the increase of her strength than the present. It is quite remarkable how much zeal and spirit there have been of late years in building new churches, in providing endowments for ministers, in separating districts from populous parishes, and generally in increasing the efficiency of the Established Church. I have seen those symptoms with very great satisfaction: and I feel, whatever may be our legislation here, that in this country, where at all events there is perfect freedom for endowments of this nature, the Church is sure to increase in power and in efficiency for the great purposes which it has in view. I should say in addition to this—and without it all else would be as nothing—that the ministers of the Gospel, though they are, unfortunately, in many cases divided into different schools, all of them evince a degree of zeal in the discharge of their sacred functions, an amount of devotion to the administration of the Gospel, and, above all, an attention to the religion of the poor, which, in my younger days, certainly was not the general character of their ministration. That is the best symptom of all, and with that symptom I cannot hut look with the greatest confidence to the future of the Church. Perhaps I may be allowed to add, and it arises out of what was said by the hon. Member for Leicestershire (Mr. Packe), and immediately appertains to the subject of church rates, that it will be a matter for the consideration of those who are charged with the revenues of the Church that, while in almost all towns there are ample means by subscriptions and donations for the repairs of the church, yet, that in our rural parishes there are many edifices of great architectural beauty, monuments of the piety of our ancestors, and in some few cases memorable for their historical antiquities, the fabrics of which, local subscriptions will not be adequate to maintain. I think that the Ecclesiastical Commission might, supposing they did nothing else, contribute one-half, or, perhaps, more of the sums necessary to maintain these churches. I am sorry if what I have said respecting this Bill is not in such terms of praise as the right hon. Gentleman could wish it to be. At the same time, he will be quite right in thinking that this is the very best measure which, under the circumstances, could be framed. We must make the measure suit the opinion of the public, and cannot expect that the best measure which could be framed would be likely to pass.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he did not rise for the purpose of expressing his opinion upon the measure which the right hon. Gentleman had just submitted to the consideration of the House. But there was one point on which he was anxious to receive some explanation. The right hon. Gentleman had told them that if a person declared he had a conscientious objection to the payment of church rates, he should be exempted from the charge. He wished to know whether that exemption was to extend to any property whatever which such a person might hold.
§ MR. MELLOR
said that, notwithstanding the favourable manner in which the statement of the right hon. Gentleman appeared to have been received, many parts of his measure were very objectionable, and would require great consideration. He was afraid that if those objections were not removed it would be difficult to pass the measure. Indeed there was only one point on which the right hon. Gentleman opposite could not be considered as too sanguine, and that was his prediction with regard to the liberality of members of the Church of England. An assertion had been repeatedly hazarded, and it was one which lay at the foundation of all legislation on this subject, to which he (Mr. Mellor) could not assent. The allegation he alluded to was as to the antiquity of this impost. He entirely denied that either before the Norman Conquest or at any time since, had church rates been an obligation on the land, although they might work out by the vote of a majority of the parishioners into such a tax. It was well known that they had originated in the conscientious offerings of the people. Formerly, when the whole people of this country were all of one faith, the Church claimed tithes of all, one portion of which, according to the division suggested by the Pope to the Monk Augustine, according to the custom of the Holy See and the Canon Law, was for the support of the bishop, the second for the support of the clergy, the third for the poor, and the fourth for the repair of churches. In process of time the clergy contrived to relieve the tithes of the claim for the repair of the churches, and persuaded the people to raise the money necessary for their repair. This they did by voluntarily agreeing to rate themselves for the purpose, or by any means they thought fit; and in process of time this became a custom, but the obligation which bound 653 them to do so was only enforced by spiritual censures, which, however effectual they might have been at one time, ultimately lost the whole of their power, and now there was, in fact, no means at all of compelling them to do so. This would show that it was a fallacy to call the charge for the repair of churches a charge upon the land. He thought therefore it would not be advisable in any change that took place to consider it as a charge upon land, as it was certain to create a great opposition to the measure from an important section of the community. He wished to ask the right hon. Gentleman what course he proposed to adopt with respect to those towns where no church rates had been levied for many years; and he also wished to know, in cases where they had been abolished by Order in Council, as was the means intended to be adopted, he believed, by the right hon. Gentleman, were they still to continue in those places till a fund had been contributed equal to a certain average that had been collected in church rates for some years past?
§ MR. DARBY GRIFFITH
said, he rose to give his approval to the general principles of the scheme proposed by the right hon. Gentleman. The fact was the churchrate system had broken down through the failure of the legal machinery formerly relied upon to enforce it effectually. Now, therefore, that they had a reasonable and practicable solution before them of the difficulties which surrounded the question, it ought to be a source of satisfaction to all who were interested in this important subject, that such an opportunity for its settlement was offered for their acceptance. He hoped the hon. Baronet (Sir J. Trelawny) would himself agree to it. He must see that this was the only mesne course between the present state of things and the total abolition which he advocated. The House must see that if it agreed to the Motion which the hon. Baronet intended to bring forward on Wednesday next, it would absolutely preclude itself from any intermediate course. They could not expect to carry a perfect chrysolite of a measure through the House; they must give and take, and must abandon a rigid adherence to mere abstract principles. Right or wrong, Dissenters had completely ignored the considerations urged by the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell). They repudiated the idea of a national Church; and they had become so powerful that their views could 654 not be wholly disregarded. If the House did agree to that Motion, which arbitrarily precluded the consideration of any other alternative than that of absolute abolition, it would be a despotic abuse of the power of a majority, and in his opinion such a course would not carry with it the approval of the country at large, or even of the right-minded portion of the Dissenters themselves. He must confess he did not expect the Government would have brought forward so good a measure. He had feared that their old Ecclesiastical Associations would have made it impossible for them to have made so decided a step in advance, as that of the measure now proposed to them. He gave them great credit for it, and thought that they were worthy of die thanks of the House for the liberality they had shown in the course they had taken. The right hon. Gentleman had come forward in a manly and straightforward manner, Which entitled him to the respect of the House, and it was not to be believed that the country would respond to the wish of any section of the House to stifle the discussion of his proposal.
§ MR. ALDERMAN CUBITT
said, he believed this to be the most important subject the House could undertake, and at the same time the most difficult. He had voted for the total abolition of church rates on previous occasions, because it was impossible the present state of things could continue. He gave that vote with great regret, but it was a choice of evils, and it was better to get rid of church rates than that time heart burnings of which they were the cause should continue. It was a great grievance that those whose families had been Dissenters for several generations should be obliged to support a church to which they conscientiously objected. Nor was theirs the only grievance. In populous parishes, where the people had outgrown church accommodation, several new churches had been built. There had been great difficulty in building those churches, and in raising the money necessary for their endowment and repair. But the present law of church rates left all these churches to the voluntary contributions of those who attended them, and thus many of these Churchmen felt church rates a grievance as well as the Dissenters. Now, if he rightly understood the provisions of the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman, they would other great facilities in this way; the Bill would enable people to endow 655 those new as well as the old churches with lands, and it would, on the other hand, relieve all those whose consciences compelled them to object to the payment of church rates. He trusted, therefore, that the Bill of the Government would be fairly and impartially considered, so that the House might perfect a measure which would pass during the present Session, and be satisfactory to the country.
§ MR. HADFIELD
said, he rose to express his dissent to the provisions of this Bill. He believed that the Bill would find more objectors within the Establishment than without. The thing could not work. To give a man a premium to express his conscientious objection to a tax was giving a bounty to Dissent. It should be remembered that the House had by a very large majority declared itself against church rates altogether, and yet the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department brought this measure before the House with the perfect knowledge that the opinion of the House was against church rates. The majority of the vestry could now refuse church rates by law; then, why should the right hon. Gentleman by all the machinery of this Bill endeavour to force the people to pay church rates? The House should not forget that conscience was the same every where, and it could not be supposed that the Dissenters living in the large towns would leave their country brethren without support. During the right hon. Gentleman's statement, he (Mr. Hadfield) did him the compliment to believe that the members of the Church could do what the Dissenters did, namely, pay their own expenses. And he did not doubt that, if the House abolished church rates altogether, the Church would flourish better than ever. There were about 25,000 Dissenting places of worship in Great Britain, and all self supported, and there were about 15,000 churches in England and Wales, 10,000 of which were parish churches; but in 2,000 of these the rate had been refused, or had not been sought for, so that only about 8,000 received any benefit from the rate; all the other churches and chapels-of-ease were not entitled receive one penny of the rate. The congregations frequenting these churches and chapels raised last year £262,000 for the purposes of their church, and surely Churchmen at large ought to do the like. The congregations of the parish churches were amongst the richest portion of the com- 656 munity; they were provided for by the State, and ought to pay their own expenses; and if their servants attended the church also, let their employers think it no hardship to pay for them. If the expenses were confined to the strictly legal charges, he did not believe more than £150,000 a year would be required. Was it not time for the Church, from very shame, to put an end to this impost? Where was the noble Lord the Member for King's Lynn (Lord Stanley)? Had he approved of this measure? He (Mr. Hadfield) believed that he was one of the last men to change his opinion with a change of seats in that House, and if the noble Lord were in the House he should expect to hear from him whether he had supported the Bill. The Church of England could not do without endowment and Acts of Parliament, but the Dissenters required no Act of Parliament and no endowment. They never troubled the State for one penny, except that one unfortunate instance in Ireland, so deeply regretted by the rest of the Nonconformists in the United Kingdom. This Bill would put an end to nothing. There would be more conflicts under it, if passed, than ever. With regard to the Mortmain Act, which this Bill, to a certain extent, proposed to repeal, the Dissenters would require a complete revision. He objected to that Act being suspended or repealed to satisfy the wished of one portion of the community, and not applied to all.
§ SIR BROOK BRIDGES
said, he rose to say a few words with reference to the statement a few words with reference to the statement that the maintenance of the church was not by the law of the country a charge on the land. It should not go forth un-contradicted to the world that it was not a charge on the land. He felt confident in the opinions on the land. He felt confident in the opinions on the land. He felt confident in the opinions which had been expressed by the most eminent lawyers elsewhere, who had declared that the whole of the land of the country was responsible for the support of the churches, and that the obligation was inalienable, and of longer duration than the title deeds of any gentleman who might possess land in the country. He sincerely trusted that some settlement of this much vexed question would be arrived at this Session.
§ MR. WALPOLE
said, he should not have thought it necessary again to address the House had it not been that in the course of the evening one or two questions had been put on matters of detail which he had not sufficiently explained in his opening speech. The hon. Member for Yarmouth 657 (Mr. Mellor) asked whether it was intended to alter the law with reference to places where church rates had not hitherto been levied; and the hon. Member for Sheffield (Mr. Hadfield) maintained that, if it were not so altered, the agitation which had been raised on the subject would only be increased. He thought he had explained that it was the intention of the Government not to interfere unnecessarily with the law as it now stood, believing it to be a right law in itself, though one that, by the force of circumstances and the alterations brought about by time, had become in some cases oppressive to those who no longer belonged to the Church. It was, therefore, not the intention of the Government to alter the law with regard to those places; and he thought there existed good reasons why they should not do so. In the first place, it would be wrong to deny to those places which had hither disobeyed the law an opportunity of obeying it; and, in the second place, he thought no hardship could accrue to them by leaving the law as it was, because a majority could determine, as at present, to impose the rate if voluntary contributions were not raised by the parishioners. By leaving the law as it stood, therefore, they would be encouraging voluntary contributions for the support of the fabric of the Church. A question had been put by the right hon. Member for Radnor (Sir George Lewis) with reference to the effect of the clause which enabled occupiers to charge the rate against the landlord. In explaining this part of the Bill he omitted to mention the subsequent clause, which provided that in cases where the landlord was required to pay the rate—in other words, when the tenant deducted the rate from the rent—the voice which the tenant formerly possessed in the vestry would be transferred to the landlord. The hon. Member for Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) asked whether it was proposed, in giving exemption on account of conscientious objections to the payment of the rate, to give the exemption to the land, or only to persons. Certainly only to persons, and only to persons during the years in which the rate was levied, for it was not desirable to prevent those who had conscientious objections to the payment of the rate at one time from coming back at another, and subjecting themselves to the charge, as in many cases might be done. He thought that when a person had been relieved from the rate for one year it was but reasonable that he should have an opportunity of say- 658 ing whether or not he would pay the rate in a future year. But the most serious objection raised against the Bill was that stated by the noble Lord the Member for London. The noble Lord had always been a most consistent opponent of the abolition of church rates. For the course he had taken on this subject the friends of the Established Church owed him a deep debt of gratitude, and nothing would give him greater pain than to find that the Government were amenable to the imputation which the noble Lord imagined stood against them when they proposed an exemption in favour of Dissenters, The noble Lord argued in forcible language that the principle of an Established Church was really involved in that proposition. Now, the noble Lord himself, in a subsequent part of his speech, showed distinctly that this exemption of Dissenters had nothing whatever to do with the principle of an Establishment. He said, the principle of an Establishment was, that they should have throughout the country, and in every part of the country, places of worship and ministers of religion to meet the spiritual wants of the people. But the noble Lord could hardly argue from his own premises that the mere fact of exempting one man, or a number of men, from the payment of church rates was a destruction of the principle of an Establishment, unless the principle meant this—that it was right to enforce on those who did not belong to the Church a compulsory payment of the rate. He thought the noble Lord was unduly hard on the measure in this respect. At the end of his speech he admitted die difficulties that existed, and seemed almost to think that these difficulties were nearly insurmountable. In such circumstances it became a grave question whether some such proposition as he (Mr. Walpole) had submitted to the House should be adopted, or whether matters should be allowed to remain exactly as they were. If things were to remain as they now were, there would necessarily be a continuance of all the agitation which they wished to put an end to; but, if it was possible to rectify some of the evils that existed he preferred that to leaving the law in its present state of uncertainty. The noble Lord said he foresaw that church rates were gone, and he (Mr. Walpole) would say so too; but he and the noble Lord applied to these words a different meaning. The noble Lord meant to infer that church rates would be gone 659 because it would be impossible any longer to levy them. He (Mr. Walpole) believed that church rates would be gone because, by the voluntary efforts of those who belonged to the Church, it would be found possible to maintain the sacred fabrics without having recourse to a system that had so long been a source of strife and contention in many parts of the country. Before sitting down he wished to make an appeal to the hon. Baronet the Member for Tavistock (Sir J. Trelawny). The second reading of his Bill on church rates stood for Wednesday next. It would be impossible for the Government to bring forward their Bill for the second reading on that day. He did not, however, see anything to prevent the hon. Member laying down his own views upon the question either upon the discussion of the Government Bill or his own measure. What he (Mr. Walpole) would propose was, that the second reading of the Bill should be put nominally for Monday next, and that the hon. Baronet should have an opportunity of putting the second reading of his Bill next on the Orders for that day. He proposed this in order that the two Bills might be debated together and the time of the House saved, and it must be evident that by this means no undue advantage would be taken of the hon. Baronet. He had now only to thank the House for the kindness with which it had received his proposition. By their experience, observation, and wisdom, he hoped that they would agree upon some scheme which would prove satisfactory to all parties.
§ SIR J. TRELAWNY
said, he was quite willing to accede to the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman, with the understanding that as early an opportunity as possible would be taken after Monday for proceeding with the Bill.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill for facilitating voluntary provision for the purpose to which Church rates are applicable, and for the extinction of Church rates where such provision is made, ordered to be brought in by Mr. Secretary WALPOLE, Mr. CHANCELLOR Of the EXCHEQUER, and Sir JOHN PAKINGTON.