HC Deb 07 July 1859 vol 154 cc853-5

Order read, for resuming adjourned Debate on Question [6th July], "That the Bill be committed to a Select Committee:"

Question again proposed.

Debate returned.


said, that by referring the Bill to a Select Committee the House would be precluded from reconsidering its principle. It imposed a distinct disability on the Church of England, because it denied the right to hold property of this kind, no matter how long the possession. Lord Lyndhurst, four ex-Chancellors, and the late Sir W. Follett concurred in passing the Dissenters' Chapels Bill, whereby the Dissenting body acquired an indefeasible title from twenty five years' possession. By this Bill the Church of England, of all religious bodies, would be debarred from pleading their title by possession. He thought that, instead of referring it to a Select Committee, it would be far better to refer the whole question, and not compromise a principle which he was certain the House did not intend to affirm. He must oppose the Motion, and he trusted the House would not leave itself under the imputation of having for the first time during some hundred years imposed a distinct disability on the Church of England.


said, he had listened to the whole debate of the previous day in the confident hope that he should hear some reasons which would at least give an appearance of plausibility to the proposition, but he had heard none. The importance of the measure was such as merited handling by the Government, but since the Bill originated with a private Member, he must express his regret that its previous endorsement by the learned Member for Wolverhampton should now invest it with the authoritative support of Her Majesty's Attorney General—and still more he must regret that Her Majesty's Ministers, for the major part, should apparently out of courtesy to their colleague have supported with their votes a measure which they condemned by their speeches. Something was said of the necessity of admitting Dissenters to a share in the advantage of Church schools. But he would remind the House that that proposition was one in its essence totally distinct from the proposition which was affirmed by the first clause. The proposition to share in the advantage of Church schools admitted the title of the Church to the schools, whereas the Bill immediately attacked the very legality of the tenure itself. The importance of the measure was said to be demonstrated by the number of petitions, but the weight of those petitions was much qualified by the circumstance, that many of them are attributable to the unfounded assertion of the promoters of the measure, who affirmed that the effect of the decision of the Court of Chancery in the Ilminster case was to declare that "Dissenters were not honest men." The decision really was, that, whether honest men or not, Dissenters were not qualified to act as trustees in the administration of the affairs of the Ilminster school. If the large number of those who signed petitions because they felt indignant at such a very aggressive opinion were excepted, there would still be a large proportion not unnaturally desirous of securing the benefit of endowments which were certainly not founded by their predecessors in religious opinions. For the House would not have failed to observe that all the petitions in favour of the Bill proceeded from Dissenters of some sort or another. The measure was an attack on every school held by possession as an endowed school of the Church of England. The interpretation of the language used by the founders, as rendered by the managers and constituting their title to the property, was assailed; but if conclusive evidence of its correctness were required it would be found in the very fact alleged by the Member for Swansea as a plea for legislation—namely, that every judicial decision, from the earliest to the latest, had confirmed the title of the Church of England to the schools under consideration. For years past large grants have been made for religious purposes, and he trusted the House would not be prepared to disavow the spirit of those grants, and by such a measure as this discourage the efforts of the Church of England in the cause of education. The contributions of members of the Church in the cause of education exceeded five times those of the Dissenters, and he therefore thought that the House ought not to agree to a measure which he could not but look upon as inimical to education. If the House were not prepared to undo all that the generous piety of our forefathers had effected, they would not proceed further with this Bill, which was an undisguised encouragement to an attempted if not successful spoliation of the Church.


said, it appeared to him, from all that he had heard urged in favour of the Bill, that little more than a blank sheet of paper, so far as the subject of endowed schools was concerned, would be referred to the proposed Committee. It had been condemned by the Attorney General, whose name was placed on the back of it, as being insufficient to remedy the evils which it proposed to remove, and it was evident that its author did not quite understand his own case. Considering, however, that the Bill had passed its second reading, and that the expediency of inquiring into the subject had thus been sanctioned, he did not deem it advisable to oppose the Motion before the House. He should, however, reserve to himself the liberty of moving an instruction to the Committee when it was named, of the terms of which, in case he should move it, he should give due notice.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill committed to a Select Committee.

House adjourned at a quarter before Twelve o'clock.