HC Deb 24 July 1861 vol 164 cc1420-6

Order for Second Reading read.


said, that in rising to move the discharge of the order for the second reading of the Church Rates Law Amendment (No. 2) Bill, he had no wish to raise any discussion on the measure. He was anxious, however, to say a few words in explanation of the reasons which had induced him to bring forward the Bill and the reasons why he was about to withdraw it. It had not been brought in from any whim or fancy of his own, for he should very much mistrust his own judgment in bringing forward such a measure. The House would remember the tone in which the debate on the proposal to go into Committee on the Church Rates Abolition Bill was carried on, and it would also be remembered that the same tone was continued in Committee in the discussion of the Amendments which he had put upon the paper. It was in accordance with that tone that he had brought forward the Bill. He had frequently been asked why he had introduced the Bill when there was already one introduced in "another place" by the Duke of Marlborough, and one also in that House by the hon. Member for Bucking, ham (Mr. Hubbard). His answer was that the Bill of the Duke of Marlborough could never be discussed in that House; and as regarded the Bill of the hon. Member for Buckingham, so far as he could see in its then shape, it was impossible to hope that it would ever pass a second reading. The general tone in which his (Mr. Cross's) Amendments had been discussed, together with the expressed opinions of several hon. Gentlemen who had done him the honour to confer with him, had induced him to embody those Amendments and opinions in the Bill which stood in his name. That there might be exceptions to that Bill he thought would be gathered from the tone of the bench of Bishops in the discussion of the Bill of the Duke of Marlborough, and, perhaps, it would be viewed with alarm by extreme sections on both sides of the House. But he had introduced the Bill under advice, and, acting under the same advice that he withdrew it. The main reason for his decision was that at so late a period as the 24th July it would be impossible to get a House sufficiently large to discuss so important a measure. He must say he was one of those who thought the House of Commons was open to the rebuke that it was always willing to discuss the affairs of every nation under the sun, while it sometimes neglected the affairs of its own country. He was not sure that if the noble Lord the Foreign Secretary were asked some question as to the state of Madagascar or Lapland, there would not be a much more serious debate than there would be on a question as to church rates in this country. He withdrew the Bill against his own will, but, as he had said, acting under advice. A very serious question, however, remained. He hoped during the recess hon. Members would consider among themselves, and in consultation with their constituents, as to whether some wise and prudent measure could not be framed to settle the question. If a better measure than that he had proposed could be advised he should be glad to withdraw from the contest; but if nothing could be produced, then he should think it his duty to bring forward the Bill in the next Session. The conciliatory tone which had pervaded the debates on the church rate question during the Session was certainly encouraging, but a conciliatory tone only would not settle the question if the harmony was to be broken up whenever a proposal of any kind was put upon the papers. He hoped the Dissenters who wanted to see the question settled would be content with a measure which really took away the grievance of which they complained. On the other side he would ask hon. Members to consider whether the question in which they were interested, and in which he was himself deeply interested, namely, the maintenance of the national church, might not be assisted by such a Bill as that he had brought forward? The question was well put by the late Dr. Arnold in 1837, when he said the real problem was, how the grievances of Dissenters could be removed without at the same time destroying the nationality of the Church of England. And he added in 1837 what was almost enough to make them laugh in 1861— I for one do not regret the postponement of this great question for one more year, because it seems to me that we ought not when the interests are so large to attempt rashly to settle the question in a manner which might turn out again to be mischievous. No one could accuse the House of Commons of having been rash in dealing with the question. Before he sat down he would remind the House that if they wished to preserve the nationality of the Church they must, as Dr. Arnold wisely expressed it, do all in their power to make it practically as well as nominally the Church of the nation at large. When church rates were first established the parish churches were open to all. Now, he would ask, who was to maintain the parish churches? At present the poor people of England were thrust into the farthest and darkest corners of the churches.


said, he must remind the hon. Member that the question before the House was the discharge of the order.


said, he would conclude by saying that if they desired to maintain the nationality of the Church the people ought to have the full use of the parish church He trusted that hon. Members would during the recess apply themselves to the subject in such a way that the question might he settled next Session.


said, that he was not anxious to revive the discussion on the Bill, but he could not refrain from expressing his satisfaction that it had been withdrawn. Anything more objectionable could not be presented to the House than the Bill of the hon. Gentleman. It was infinitely worse than the present state of the law, either having regard to the Nonconformist community nor to the Church of England itself. It proposed the revival of church rates in all the large towns where they had been abolished, and to throw on the rates about 2,000 district churches which were at present sufficiently supported without them by voluntary contributions. In fact, there would be about 9,000,000 of people who were now exempt who would be brought within the meshes of the law by the Bill. The Bill would expose all the rural districts to social persecution. Every hon. Gentleman knew that there were but few men in those districts who were able to say what they wished in the matter without subjecting themselves to persecution, and the fact that they would have to send in a written notice of dissent every year was placing them on the horns of a dilemma more galling than the rates themselves. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department said the other day that it was a generally recognized principle in their discussions on the subject not to give the Church a stronger remedy than she had at present, but the Bill would do so. On the other hand he could not conceive that the national Church, if it were a national Church, approved of the Bill, because it would denationalize that Church and reduce it to the level of a sect. If the hon. Gentleman wished for the settlement of this question, and if he wished that member of the Church England alone should pay the rate he had simply to bring in a Bill of a few lines to exempt all persons who did not themselves desire to pay, and that would practically give the hon. Gentleman more money than the Church at present received. There was a practical example of that in Manchester, Rochdale, and other towns where the rate had been abolished. If the hon. Member and those who thought with him would take that course, they would do that which was most consistent with the character of the Church of England itself, she would retain all that she had of her national character, Dissenters would have nothing to complain of, and they would all have the happiness of acting together in a harmony which ought never to have been disturbed.


said, he wished to remind the House that the Motion before them was a Motion for discharging the first of thirty-three orders that stood on the paper. The question of church rates had been amply discussed during the Session. He hoped, therefore, that desultory and profitless debate would not be carried on any further, and that they would not convert that House into a mere bebating society. He thought the question of church rates would be more profitably discussed in the newspapers during the recess, than by unpremeditated speeches in that House.


said, there was much force in what had fallen from the right hon. Gentleman, but he wished to make a few remarks in consequence of what had been said by the two hon. Members who had gone before. His hon. Friend (Mr. Cross) recommended that all persons during the recess should carefully consider the subject, and put their views in writing, and then they would be able to see how they differed. He agreed with his hon. Friend that they would see how they differed, and he thought that the speech of the hon. Baronet opposite did not look very favourable as regarded a compromise.


said, he wished to explain that he had never said, as had been misreported, that he was in favour of a compromise, but simply he thought it desirable that hon. Gentlemen opposite should be allowed an opportunity of bringing forward their views. He denied that the withdrawal of the Bill of the hon. Member for Tavistock was owing to the introduction of the Bill of the hon. Member.


said, he hoped the Conservative, Members would not fall into the error of carrying matters with too high a hand, and insisting upon reaction on this question. There was some danger of their raising their biddings—that was the rock on which they were likely to split. He would not follow the Conservative party into any course which had merely for its object to defeat measures brought in on the other side of the House without introducing some really good and efficient measure of their own. For himself, he should refuse to follow the leaders of the Conservative party in any bigoted reaction on the subject, if such were attempted, as he believed that the time had come for a moderate and reasonable settlement of the question.


said, that although he did net agree with the hon. Baronet in his unqualified admiration of the voluntary system, yet it was his firm impression that that was the principle which must be adopted with respect to the large towns, but that its application to the Church of England in those towns should be guarded, so that it should not weaken the parochial system. He was decidedly of opinion that a totally different remedy was required for the rural districts and places where church rates were now maintained. He (Mr. Newdegate) regretted that it was totally impossible for him to express any approbation of the principle of the Bill before the House. As the House well knew, he had always maintained that the principle upon which the Church of England was based, that the only principle upon which the nationality of the Church, and her right to the property, which she held, could be maintained, was the principle of inclusion; that she is the Church of all who choose to accept her ministrations. The Bill of the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Cross) was based on opposite principle, upon the principle of exclusion, and would operate to the destruction of the national character of the Church of England if passed into law. Taking the case of such a town as Birmingham, if the Bill became law, and if there was an attempt to enforce its provisions, it would do more to break up the growing good feeling which existed than any measure he could conceive; it would have this effect, that it would register the majority of the population of that town, including Dissenters, Nonconformists, those who had any personal difference with the clergy, those who merely objected to pay, and the poor, in a category which would be available for those who desired the subversion of the Church. The Bill would literally form in every parish of England a register for the use of those who desired to agitate against the Church, and that register would be formed at the expense of the Church itself. He would beg the friends of the Church of England to take that warning. He was convinced that the only safety for the Church of England was that she should adhere to the broad principle of her nationality, and that she should claim still to be by her constitution what she was by her principles, the Church of the poor. He begged the House to remember that if any ratepayer were poor he must claim the exemption from church rate tendered by the Bill, and he would then be excluded by the Bill from his common law right to a seat in his own parish church.

Order discharged: Bill withdrawn.