HC Deb 10 July 1861 vol 164 cc663-73

Order for Second Reading read.


thought the present was a favourable opportunity for the dispassionate consideration for the question. The only measure on this subject which of late years had passed through the House was a Bill for the total abolition of church rates, and that Bill had recently received a gradually diminishing support, until, from a commanding majority, it had met with actual rejection. The parties, however, on that last division were so accurately balanced that neither could claim a predominance, and they were so far qualified to consider the subject with reciprocal motives for liberality and conciliation. But why had this decline occurred in the fortunes of the Total Abolition Bill? Because the measure itself was out of all proportion to the grievance alleged by one party of its supporters, and because it proved so truthful an interpreter of the ulterior aims of another, and that the effective party who supported it. The hon. Baronet (Sir John Trelawny) and his friends promoted it as a remedy for a conscientious grievance, and excused its going so far beyond the necessity of their case by urging that it was in the interest of the Church itself that they proposed to abolish church rates. The answer to that plea briefly was—"Churchmen are the best judges of what is for their own advantage, and beg that they may be left free to tax themselves for their own purposes." But the object of the real and effective promoters of total abolition was to denationalise the Church, and for their object the proposition was most admirably contrived. Upon that field the Liberation Society would meet with a resolute resistance, and hon. Gentlemen opposite may be satisfied that this question would never be settled upon the ground of ignoring the nationality of the Church. Neither (would he add to Gentlemen on this side the House) could the question be settled by ignoring the principle of religious liberty. If these facts were mutually recognized, there would be no difficulty on the part of Churchmen in appreciating the position of Dissenters, and granting them all that they could reasonably desire. The Bill which he had brought forward stated in the first place the legitimate objects for which church rates ought to be raised. It proposed to constitute modern ecclesiastical districts into parishes so far as church rates were concerned. It transferred the jurisdiction of the Ecclesiastical Courts in the case of church rates either to the County Courts, the Quarter Sessions, or the Supreme Common Law Courts. Then it assimilated the mode in which the church rate was to be collected to that followed in the case of poor rate; and it gave power to persons not conforming to the Church of England to claim exemption from the rate. He would not affirm that there was nothing in a name, but he must say that the phrase of ticketing Dissenters had been erected into an unreasonable bugbear. If it were a disgrace to be a Dissenter, it would be natural to shrink from being known as one, but what was the origin of a Dissenter? A Dissenter was one who, taking advantage of the liberty awarded to him, dissented from the Church, and the fact of his doing so proved that he was a man of determination, and that he took the step irrespective of any social consequences that might ensue from it. Why, then, should such a man shrink from being ticketed as a Dissenter? He was sure the Society of Friends could have no such feeling, for they were not only the oldest and most consistent controversialists on behalf of their peculiar views, but they ticketed themselves by the adoption of a peculiar dress, antiquated but convenient, and by adhering to a phraseology which respected the rules of grammar, while it violated the rules of courtesy. A more serious objection to a declaration of Nonconformity was raised by those Churchmen who looked upon schism as so fearful a danger and offence that they deprecated inviting or allowing men to assume the character of Dissenters. Well, if that scruple were generally entertained by the House, he should readily yield to it, for, although he thought the form of claim he had framed a natural and reasonable one, he did not consider the disclaimer of Church Communion to be an essential feature in it. But would that change in the construction of the claim remove the objection, or would it be urged again, as it had been by the learned Member for Plymouth, that any claim to exemption implied Nonconformity, and was, therefore, to be considered as a ticketing? He was really anxious to adopt the form which was most entirely free from a liability to offend the conscience, the scruples, the prejudices even, of Dissenters; but he must frankly say that he saw no prospect of an adjustment if they approached the discussion only in the spirit of the Liberation Society. In one of a series of propositions advertised by that society on the eve of the last division, they objected to the retention by Churchmen of a legal power to levy church rates, and declared that if it were continued Dissenters would be entitled to claim a right to levy "chapelrates." This struck him as a most significant declaration, for it implied that it was the legal status of the Church as bound up in the Constitution which they attacked, and that, rather than leave the Church in the sole possession of a legal power to rate, they would themselves demand the same right, a right be it remembered, which they had decried as a hateful one, and destructive of all true and vital religion. The hon. Member for Birmingham, in a previous debate, had invited them to give up their exclusive prerogative, but, "only upon church rates;" but did the Liberation Society assail the prerogative of the Church only as to church rates? Oh, no! They were explicit enough. Their indictment was sufficiently distinct and ample. The religious compact at the Coronation between the Sovereign and the people—the recognition of the Church in the religious service of the House of Lords, of the House of Commons, and of the Universities—the religious teaching of the destitute in our workhouses—the religious conversion of our very criminals in our prisons, since the religion was that of the Church—the maintenance of the religious endowments of the Church for parochial and educational purposes—all these, and many other facts are boldly designated by the Liberation Society as so many objects of their deliberate and resolute hostility. Now, while he avowed for himself, and for others whose feelings he knew, a desire to meet the consideration of any real grievance on the part of Dissenters with the utmost liberality, he must add that they could have no hope of adjusting these differences with men who shared the extravagant and revolutionary views of the Liberation Society, Let Members on the other side acknowledge and respect the nationality of the Church, and let Members on this side frankly recognize the principle of religious liberty, and he could anticipate a fair and equitable adjustment of this lamentable and prolonged struggle. He did not expect that at this period of the Session it would be possible to pass a Bill of such importance as the present, but he hoped he would be pardoned by the House for the statement he had made, as he had made it with a sincere desire to promote a fair and equitable settlement of this question. As he saw no prospect of being able to carry the Bill this Session, he would move that the order for its second reading be discharged.


said, he did not know whether, strictly speaking, he ought to allow the Bill to be withdrawn. However, he would content himself by giving hon. Gentlemen opposite a little advice, in many of whom he saw signs of improvement. He trusted they would make up their minds during the recess on some definite plan they would be prepared to support in the next Session. The hon. Gentleman had put a wrong gloss on the resolution of the Liberation Society, when he said that they were in point of fact asking the House to give them coercive means of obtaining rates the same as Churchmen had. They merely said that if the House adopted these rates, and they were held to be right and proper, then the necessary and logical consequence would be that the same right should be conceded to Dissenters. But they were entirely against any compulsory process whatever.


said, that the general principle of a compromise must be that the Established Church alone had the right to levy a church rate. Her supporters, however, were willing to give to all who did not belong to the national Church the power of declining to pay church rates. He was opposed to drawing any hard line of demarcation between the Church and those who did not belong to her, and he had reason to know that that sentiment was shared not only by the Dissenters, but by many of the heads of the Church. The Bill of his hon. Friend (Mr. Cross) was fixed for the 24th inst. He could not say whether it would be introduced and discussed this Session, but, looking to the present appearance of the House, and the desirableness of securing a full House on a subject of national importance, his hon. Friend would probably not attempt to proceed with his Bill during the present Session. Next year, however, he trusted that a compromise would be adopted which would give satisfaction not only to both Houses of Parliament, but also to the public out of doors.


said, that church rates in Liverpool had been practically abolished for years. A sort of rate, how- ever was made, which was printed in red ink on the rating paper, with the word "voluntary" against it. If a ratepayer objected to it he had only to strike his pen through it. There were hundreds of Dissenters in Liverpool who formerly objected to pay the rate when it was compulsory who paid the voluntary rate cheerfully. By that method all "ticketing" was avoided, and universal satisfaction was given. The amount was certainly not so great as had been collected previously, but it was amply sufficient for all church purposes.


said, he wished to bear his testimony to the conciliatory tone of the hon. Baronet the Member for Tavistock. The hon. Baronet was almost as one with himself in thinking that church rates had better be abolished, provided there were an adequate substitute secured to the parishes, The hon. Baronet had used great exertions to induce hon. Members to consider the plan which he (Mr. Newdegate) had the honour of submitting to the House, the plan being to "ticket" no one, but to give an exemption to tenants, if they chose to take it, by private arrangement with the landlords. That plan was practicable. It would be impossible to revive church rates in Birmingham by any compulsory system, and his plan would have left Birmingham exempt form its operation. If some such plan as existed in Liverpool were adopted in Birmingham it would provide the means for maintaining the fabrics of churches in that borough. He deprecated all compromises which would create a demarcation between Churchmen and Dissenters. His principles were ably enunciated by a learned Nonconformist who derived his origin from Birmingham. He claimed that the National Church should be open to every one; that every denomination having the means of providing for its own religious worship with the amplest freedom should never be debarred from returning to the Church of England; that no distinction, whether legal or moral, should be raised against their return; for he held that to establish such demarcation would invalidate the foundation of the National Church, and be calculated to disentitle the Church to the possession of her property, which she used so much to the advantage of the community. Such a demarcation would in short lay the ground for the denationalization of the Church. It was a principle of exclusion to which he would never readily yield his sanction. The principle on which he proposed his plan was the principle of inclusion. He saw no reason why a settlement satisfactory to all parties, not depriving parishes of their right to their property, not depriving them of legal means of maintaining the fabric of the church, should not be adopted.


said, that they heard a great deal about compromise within the walls of that House, but he believed that those whom he represented, and the large body of Nonconformists, had not the least intention to come to any compromise, It was only in that House that it was talked of, and they were only deceiving themselves if they believed that any compromise would ever be entered into. The hon. Baronet (Sir John Trelawny) had disclaimed any connection between his measure and the Liberation Society. Why, the Bill was the Bill of the Liberation Society. It was first brought in by Sir William Clay, into whose hands it was placed by the society. The agitation throughout had been the agitation of the Liberation Society, and the question would never have assumed the triumphant importance it had if it had not been for the Liberation Society. It was entirely their doing. Depend upon it they had no intention of compromising the question. But he thought it an unfortunate thing that the hon. Baronet (Sir John Trelawny) had acceded to the invitation of the hon. Member for Wiltshire (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) who said he had a Bill in preparation for a compromise, and volunteered to delay his measure from the 5th of June to the 20th. He (Mr. Duncombe) believed if he had stuck to the 5th of June he would have carried his Bill, and it would have gone to the House of Lords, and Mr. Speaker would not have been placed in the shameful position of having to give a casting vote. Many hon. Gentlemen threw off on account of that delay. They saw compromise was intended, and they went away. He thought the cause had suffered by the course taken. The Nonconformists had the struggle to begin again. Let them stick to it. It was too late to compromise, and depend on it before many years were over, the rate would be abolished.


said, that he had contrasted with regret the tone of the language of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) and that of the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Duncombe). He ventured to say that the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Duncombe) had undertaken to do more than he was entitled when he said that he spoke on the part of the body of Nonconformists. [Mr. T. DUNCOMBE: I did not say I spoke for them. I said that I believed it.] He would then express his confident hope that the hon. Gentleman's belief was erroneous. He was much more disposed to agree with the hon. Member for Liverpool in thinking that there was no small proportion of the Nonconformists of England who would not only be glad to see the question amicably settled, but who, if the compulsory payment of church rates were abolished, would gladly contribute to the support of a church open alike to rich and poor. He thought his hon. Friend (Mr. Hubbard) had acted judiciously in withdrawing his Bill. He rose to express his strong and emphatic feeling, which was shared by a very large proportion of hon. Members on both sides, that the time had now arrived when the House might and ought to decide upon some amicable settlement of that long-vexed and disputed question. The course of the agitation ought to have taught both sides alike the necessity of moderation. He would venture to remind the Nonconformists, in the first place, that from the moment the evidence taken before a Committee of the House of Lords established the fact that a certain portion of the Dissenters used the agitation of church rates as a means of attack on the Established Church their majorities had gradually fallen off, until the majority was reversed. The lesson they might learn was this, that so far as they had used church rates as a weapon for injuring and weakening the Established Church, their design had signally failed. No doubt, however, the majority of the Nonconformists were sincere in their conscientious objections to church rates. On the other hand, he would remind the friends of the Church that the question of church rates did not stand in a satisfactory position. They had at length succeeded in defeating a Church Rate Abolition Bill, but it could not be disguised that a large majority of those who voted against it were sincere members of the Church, who desired to put an end to church rates. In many parishes church rates were refused, and the present system could not be said to be working in a satisfactory manner to the church itself. The Church, for her own interest, was required to make concessions, and he had reason to think that if the subject were approached in a fair and amicable spirit on both sides of the House a satisfactory solution might be arrived at. His opinion was the result of many recent consultations with hon. Members on both sides of the House. He trusted that during the recess hon. Members who had brought in Bills would again devote their minds to the subject, and that, instead of renewing painful conflicts that were a scandal to religion itself, and that created and prolonged ill-feeling between Churchmen and Dissenters, some measure might in the next Session of Parliament receive the consent, if not of the two extreme parties, yet of the great majority of that House.


said, he did not believe that the Bill of his hon. Friend (Mr. Cross) could be urged with any hope of success this Session. It was, however, the only really conciliatory proposal that had been made, and he trusted that either that or some similar measure would receive the assent of Parliament next Session.


said, he rose to express his concurrence with what had fallen from the hon. Member for Finsbury (Mr. Duncombe). He was one of those who believed that compromise was out of the question—that there was only one remedy for the evils complained of, and that was abolition. Moreover, he ventured to say that the position of the Church of England was no longer such as to warrant her taking such a high- handed tone. She was no longer the church of the majority. Within her own bosom there were sects that differed as widely as Rome from Nonconformity. The only way in which the question could be settled was by abolition.


said, he would move that the House adjourn, in order—


said, the hon. Gentleman could not do so. He had already spoken, and it was not competent for him to make a Motion. He might explain.


said, a remark had been made that he was for a compromise. Certainly he should not be averse to a compromise, but he did not think the hon. Gentleman below (Mr. Duncombe) had treated him fairly. Why, Mr. Miall, who went as far as any one in these matters, had accepted the compromise which was proposed by Sir George Grey. He (Sir John Trelawny) was not allowed to explain further, but he would take care there was no mistake about the matter.

The hon. Gentleman (Mr. Duncombe) presumed greatly on his past usefulness when he made the statement he had made.


expressed a hope that in the next Session there would be a permanent settlement of this question; he meant one that would be satisfactory to all parties, for no other could be expected to be permanent. He had heard it said by high authorities in this House, who were themselves opposed to the unconditional abolition of church rates, that Wales was in this matter an exceptional case, differing altogether from England; and it was certain that however great were the evils of the present position of the question there they were still more aggravated in Wales by reason of the prevalence of Dissent. These evils could not be better described than they were in the Second Resolution of the Lords' Report; that church rates are only assessable by a majority of the vestry, and that for the neglect to vote a rate there is no penalty at common law. Thus, on a question which ought above all others to be removed from the arena of controversy; namely, whether the church shall be repaired or not, they saw continually evoked all the stormy passions of the political platform and the hustings; and more envenomed, because there entered into them a religious and sectarian spirit, telling men that they were conscience stricken and persecuted, and proportionably exasperating them. These evils seemed to him far greater than any that could arise from total abolition. In the evenly balanced state of parties in this House it was no disparagement of individual Members, however eminent they might be, to say that a settlement of this question was beyond their powers. He, therefore, wished to see it undertaken by the Government; that of Lord Derby had made an honourable attempt in that direction, and he had always thought that it was more honourable in them to have made the attempt than it was discreditable to have failed. Nec tam, Turpe fuit vinci, quam contendisse decorum est. If they looked back on the legislation of preceding years, they saw that those political settlements which had been made in a large and comprehensive spirit, had given general satisfaction and had been permanent. In such a spirit the Duke of Wellington, by the influence which he possessed, was enabled to achieve Catholic emancipation; and Ireland, which was once the most turbulent and distracted part of the empire, became as peaceable and contented as any other. After years of agitation the free trade controversy was closed. They had made peace with Ireland, they had made peace with the Free-traders, let them now make peace with the Dissenters. Some of them might have expressed ulterior views, some might have even spoken unadvisedly with their lips, but he did not think, he was sure the House did not think, that the great body of them throughout the country were an implacable race who had vowed the destruction of the Church. And if some of them had done so, that was no reason why they should refuse to apply timely remedies to admitted evils, which all deplored; which affected the clergy more than any others. If this question were once settled, and that of education treated in a mild and paternal spirit, he believed that thousands of Dissenters, from being opposed to the Church, would become its friends. Should the Government in the next Session address themselves to it they would, doubtless be supported on both sides of the Houses of Parliament; and they might feel the satisfaction of having accomplished two great measures—the French Treaty, and the settlement of the church rate question; peace abroad, and peace at home.


did not think the course taken by his hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock was open to the criticisms of his hon. Friend (Mr. T. Duncombe), for they were not founded on fact. He (Sir Charles Douglas), having been a member of the Committee moved for by the Member for Tavistock in 1851, could state that a Bill for the Total Abolition of Church Rates was the consequence of the proceedings before that Committee, was not drawn by the Liberation Society, on the contrary, it was introduced into that House before that society existed. He might add that the hon. Gentleman himself (Mr. T. Duncombe) was one, amongst others, who had originally asked his hon. Friend to bring in the Bill. It was perfectly true that the hon. Member for Tavistock had always expressed his readiness to accept a satisfactory compromise, but those who knew him, well knew that the only compromise which could be proposed as satisfactory to him must be, both in principle and substance, all he had so long contended for. He believed that the opponents of church rates owed much to his hon. Friend for his conduct of this Bill, for he had always endeavoured to promote goodwill, and he (Sir Charles Douglas) was sure he was only expressing the feeling of the House in bearing testimony to the courteous and efficient manner in which his hon. Friend had invariably conducted the opposition to the church rates. He believed that his hon. Friend had acted wisely in giving to Gentlemen opposite full opportunity for proposing a compromise, convinced as he was they could never agree on any plan which would settle the question short of total abolition. For his own part, for the sake both of Churchmen and Dissenters, he was not in favour of any compromise of principle on the question, and he was convinced that no compromise would ever be accepted on any terms which did not involve the voluntary principle.

Order discharged; Bill withdrawn.