§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ SIR JOHN TRELAWNY
said, that he had so repeatedly stated the case of those concerned in the movement for the abolition of church rates that he would best consult the wishes and convenience of the House if he were as brief as possible under the circumstances in which he was placed. It was necessary, however, that he should refer to one or two arguments which might 1277 be used by the opponents of the Bill, as, owing to the hour at which the House rose, he had practically no opportunity to reply. It was constantly thrown out against hon. Gentlemen on that (the Liberal) side of the House that they were prepared to endorse the views of the Liberation Society, who were assumed to hold ulterior views with regard to the Church. There were surely sufficient reasons why church rates should be abolished without mixing up the question with the proceedings of the Liberation Society. The fact that a certain society was prepared to go much further than the abolition of the church rates had no connection with the question now before them, and was no argument against a measure which was just and expedient in itself. Hon. Members opposite were to a great degree in agreement with him as to the necessity of legislation. He believed there was no hon. Gentleman on the other side who was not quite as anxious to determine in what way Dissenters might be relieved as hon. Gentlemen on that side of the House. Therefore they were come to this, that the House of Commons might be regarded at that moment as nothing more or less than a Committee of Inquiry as to the best way of dealing with church rates. His position was rendered peculiar and somewhat difficult by the absence of opposition, for substantially there was none. He did not know of any hon. Member who was not committed to the opinion that Dissenters were entitled to relief. In that way they got rid of a variety of arguments, such as the antiquity of church rates and the fact of land being bought subject to church rates. The latter was a point which ought not to be introduced at all, because hon. Gentlemen opposite were prepared to exempt, not only Dissenters, but Churchmen also in the case of district churches. But the point to which he wished chiefly to call attention was as to the proposed compromise. Gentlemen opposite would bear in mind that nobody had taken more trouble to bring together the parties opposed than he had done. He had gone to hon. Gentlemen below the gangway and above the gangway on both sides, and to Dissenters day by day, with the view of bringing parties together and he must say not entirely without success, because their position was now very different from what it was before. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) had consented to make sacrifices which were, no doubt, important from his point of view, and he had urged 1278 upon those who supported the abolition of the rates, that they ought also to show a conciliatory spirit, and consider whether they could not make some concessions to meet the views of hon. Gentlemen on the other side. It was clear that they (the anti-church rate party) must have the substance of that for which they contended, otherwise there would be no settlement, at all. The opponents of the Bill made a great mistake when they thought that the question was simply one of money. It was not, and could not possibly be so. It was absurd to suppose that a vote of 1d. or 2d. in the pound in certain parishes was all that was at issue. The question, as regarded Dissenters, had been described as a sentimental one, and the term was not inappropriate, but it certainly was not a money matter. If they were going to attempt to settle the question on the ground of the exemption of Dissenters they would not succeed, because in trying to apply the severe provisions which it was proposed to introduce into the law, they would find that there would be disturbances in the streets, and a rescue of the goods which might have been seized. Consequently he did not believe the system of what was called ticketing would be successful. Therefore they would not be doing what was best for the Church itself by compelling Dissenters to register themselves in that way. He would remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that there were many on their own side who had come over to his opinion. He would not trouble the House by quoting at any great length from the recent remarkable pamphlet of Mr. Bennett. He thought it would be seen that the nationality of the Church was not at all compromised by the course which they were taking. He did not think that hon. Gentlemen opposite cared so much about substance as about the theory; they had a sentimental feeling on the subject, and objected to the abolition of church rates because they thought that by doing so the national character of the Established Church would be destroyed. He denied that such would be the effect of abolishing church rates, and if they wished to take the issue on that point he was ready to do so. He contended that if they abolished church rates, the nationality of the Church would remain untouched. It was said that the working classes would be injured by his Bill. He did not think that those who used, that argument knew what the real feelings of the working classes were. He 1279 would recommend lion. Members to read a petition which had been presented to that House from the parish of Moulton, in the county of Suffolk, signed by three working men, whose names were William Wybrow, Thomas Dover, and Richard Wybrow, and especially the following passages:—That your petitioners have no faith in such suspicions and ephemeral generosity; and, moreover, do not see any reason why they should be robbed of what they now hold as a right, and be left dependent on a precarious charity: that your petitioners, being uneducated, and little conversant with affairs of State, and so seldom meddling therewith, and having, moreover, no voice in the election of representatives of the people in your honourable House, are liable to have their rights overlooked and frittered away through want of a due consideration of them.Those men gave expression to the wishes of their fellow-labourers generally, and if the suffrage were extended, the real feeling of the working classes respecting church rates would be made known. It was not necessary for him to go into details to show the inconvenience arising from the present system of church rates. Every second or third day some illustration of that inconvenience was to be found in the columns of The Times. The pamphlet of the Rev. Mr. Bennett explained very clearly the evils arising from the law with respect to church rates, and he would call attention to the following remarks in it:—We recur, then, to our remedy all the more cheerfully and without any fear of Erastian hostility, when we find one of the principal members of her Majesty's Government thus assuring us. We have only to look round—to watch, and take note. The evils of the present system are so enormous, while the blessings of relief are so refreshing and so hopeful, that we will throw ourselves at once among the boldest to say—Deliver us from the bondage of this law!' Who that practically knows the evils will not join in this prayer? Look into some country market town, or some manufacturing district, swarming with an ungodly population. That whole community, since the time of Oliver Cromwell, has been divided into three or four, it may be five or six, assortments of sectarianism. Politics are made to take their colour from religion, and religion from politics, and each in its turn plays its part against the other. Put yourselves down among these people when there conies an election, either of a parish officer, a churchwarden, or a member of Parliament. See how all the ill-blood of jealousy, and the sarcasms of personality, and the bitterness of tale-bearing inflames the whole population in an instant; and the anger and resentment of one year has hardly subsided before it is evoked again by another. Then throw into this cauldron of schism, already boiling over, the additional ingredient of church rates, and what will 1280 your parish become? We have read of or may have imagined what a Pandemonium may be. Here we have a chance of realizing it. The parish priest is said to be the 'Minister of Peace.' His mission is love. His doctrine is to be delivered for the salvation of souls, 'without money and without price.' He is, 'to know his sheep and be known of them,' and they are to 'follow him because they know his voice.' Realize this in a parish vestry in which two-thirds of the people never enter the church at all, except for the one purpose of clamouring against a church rate. Now is the time for the bitter Nonconformist, the acute Dissenting minister, or the sharp practising latitudinarian attorney to rise up and hold forth before his assembled townsmen. Now, under the guise of speaking against the rate, is dealt forth the bitter virus of hostility either against all establishments in general, or the special circumstances of the parish in particular. The wearing of surplices, or the Act of Uniformity; the tolling of bells, or the Apostolical Succession; the beadle's coat, or the blessed Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, the sacred elements of which by the rubric of the Book of Common Prayer the parish must provide, and the vestry pay for in the annual rate—such subjects as these, mixing the ludicrous with the sacred, and not unfrequently tinged with unsparing personalities between the different parties, find their place in the annual display of Dissenting oratory. The unfortunate parish priest, in his official capacity as chairman, sitting in the chair of state, to moderate between the combatants, the legal pastor of this happy community 'by law established,' must put the fatal vote to the meeting. 'Shall the decaying church be repaired or shall it not?' Shall the services of religion be maintained any longer, or shall they cease, or if not cease, shall they continue curtailed and shorn of their beauty, for the sake of the penny rate moved by the churchwarden and amended by the Dissenting minister? The vote is put; the acclamations are great; the rejoicing general, when the luckless chairman hides his face in shame amid the taunts and jeers of those, whom he is still nevertheless bound to call his 'legal parishioners.'He (Sir John Trelawny) submitted that nothing could more clearly show the evils arising from the present system. There was another pamphlet suggesting a remedy, by a former Member of Parliament, in which it was proposed to take away the sanction altogether, and to leave the existing machinery; but, undoubtedly, that was not the best way to overcome the evil against which they had to contend. He wished to say before he sat down, that should hon. Gentlemen opposite see their way hereafter to any approximation to his views he should be prepared to hear them, but he now placed the matter in the hands of the House. He would remind hon. Gentlemen opposite that at very heavy responsibility lay upon them. If they did not settle the question then in all probability it would be handed over to the secular arm. Much evil might befall the 1281 Established Church if hereafter the question should fall into the hands of persons who would not take the moderate view of it which he did.
§ Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."
§ MR. COLLIER
said, he was extremely glad that the lion. Baronet the Member for Tavistock had acceded to the request that had been made to him to postpone the third reading of the Bill to that day. The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) had every right to prefer that request; because his good sense, his acquaintance with the subject, his moderation, and his conciliatory spirit, qualified him to undertake the settlement of the question, if it could be settled. They had before them the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman, and he (Mr. Collier) very much regretted to say it did not contain the elements for a settlement of the question. If that were so, and if the right hon. Gentleman had only contributed another failure to those already experienced, he only furnished an additional argument for reading the Bill then under consideration a third time. He (Mr. Collier) should confine himself to pointing out one or two objections to the scheme of the right hon. Gentleman which were fatal to it. The right hon. Gentleman proposed to change altogether the nature and incidence of the tax. At the present it was a personal charge upon the occupier, but the right hon. Gentleman proposed to make it a charge upon property, and to fix it upon the owner, irrespective of his residence or non-residence in the parish. The right hon. Gentleman, however, was not satisfied with changing the nature and incidence of the tax; he altogether deprived the taxpayers of the right they had exercised from time immemorial of determining, if the tax should be levied, what amount should be levied, and for what purpose it should be expended. The right hon. Gentleman proposed to deprive the vestries of the parishes to which the third clause referred, of the powers they had hitherto exercised, and to transfer these powers to the churchwardens. It seemed to him that the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman, instead of uniting all parties, would tend to excite further opposition to the rate. It was almost impossible to expect that the hon. Member for Tavistock, and those who thought with him, and who were opposed to church rates being levied with the assent of the vestry, should assent to the 1282 tax being permanent. It was almost impossible to suppose that those who had the right in the parishes to which the provision referred—if they could obtain a majority to defeat the rate altogether, would consent that the rate should be permanently charged upon them and their heirs for ever. But it also seemed to him that the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman must hare to encounter the opposition of the leader of his own party, because the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire (Mr. Disraeli) had some time ago made the discovery that church rates were extremely valuable, as affording to parishioners the opportunity of exercising the functions of local self-government in their parishes. The right hon. Gentleman also objected to the Bill of the hon. Member for Tavistock on the ground that it would revolutionize the parochial system of England. But the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) revolutionized the parochial system of England, and destroyed those powers in vestry of self-taxation, and of control over that taxation, which had been exercised from time immemorial. Henceforth the churchwardens were to exercise the sole judgment as to how far the church required repair, and to what extent a church rate should be imposed for that purpose. It seemed to him that the main provision of the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman was calculated to excite even the opposition of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Buckinghamshire. It proposed so great an innovation upon the Constitution of the country, that although he (Mr. Collier) sat upon the benches below the gangway, he was too much of a Conservative to approve of. No doubt the right hon. Gentleman thought, by his proposition for what might be called "stereotyping" church rates, he would put an end to litigation. He (Mr. Collier) could not help thinking that upon that subject also the right hon. Gentleman had been the victim of some pleasing delusion. There was a provision in the proposed Act to the effect that an owner's rate should be levied on all property in respect of which the occupier had been assessed to a church rate within five years. In all these cases the question would arise, whether there had or had not been a legal assessment to the church rate within five years, and, probably, in almost every case, that question would be disputed. So far, therefore, from putting an end to litigation, the right hon. Gentleman would open an ex- 1283 tended field of litigation in the greater portion of the parishes to which the Act would apply, which might last for a great number of years. The right hon. Gentleman did not stop there. Not content with one church rate, to simplify the question, he proposed two, and he also proposed two vestries—one the ordinary vestry, and the other for the purpose of collecting the church rate, and to be formed of owners rated as aforesaid, and all occupiers who during the preceding twelve months had paid church rates, or contributed any subscription in lieu thereof. It was true that the right hon. Gentleman did not require a declaration of religious belief from persons who wished to exempt themselves from church rates. The notice only required the person to "decline to be a member of the church vestry;" but the difference was only one of form. The notice would be construed as one declaring that the person dissented from the Established Church, and would, therefore, be open to the objection put forward against "ticketing Dissenters." He (Mr. Collier) was one of those who thought it extremely impolitic to attempt to define the precise boundary between conformity and nonconformity, and if there were a hard line of demarcation, which he trusted there was not, their policy ought to be to obliterate that line if they desired to see the Church of England a Church not of one sect or party, but of the whole nation. He had alluded to what seemed to him the salient features of the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman, and he thought he had shown the House sufficient to satisfy them that such a measure could never be taken as the basis of a satisfactory settlement of this question. So far from being a plan for relief from church rates, it was one for rendering them permanent; and so far from being a plan simplifying matters, it was one that would make "confusion worse confounded." It would effect a great constitutional innovation by depriving vestries of functions which they now exercised, and transferring them to churchwardens. The failure of the right hon. Gentleman was to be attributed to the inherent difficulty of the subject, and he believed the House would not be premature in coming to the conclusion that the only way of settling the question was by passing the Bill of the right hon. Baronet, the Motion for the third reading of which he now begged to second.
§ MR. SOTHERON ESTCOURT
said, it 1284 would have been very much more agreeable to him to assist in bringing about a settlement of the question than to appear as an opponent of the hon. Baronet the Member for Tavistock. Before entering on the question before the House he wished to take that public opportunity of bearing testimony to the perfectly straightforward and conscientious manner in which that hon. Baronet had dealt with him in the negotiation which he (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) had attempted to carry on with regard to that subject, but in which, he must confess, he had entirely failed. He knew very well that if an hon. Gentleman who had taken a prominent part for or against a Bill, was induced to listen to any offer or proposition from an opponent, he was exposed amongst his own particular friends to a charge of falling short of what might be expected from him. But he could assure those who supported the hon. Member for Tavistock that in the course of those negotiations he had in no way compromised the principles which he had previously advocated. He regretted that no settlement had been arrived at; but although the armistice between him and the hon. Baronet was at an end he did not understand why a parley should not take place, he did not see why all overtures for a reconciliation should be stopped. He had no doubt that the House would still be ready to hear any reasonable proposition for a settlement. He was not going to defend his own plan on the present occasion, because it was not before the House; but he must observe that he did not think the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just spoken clearly apprehended the meaning of the Third Clause. He never intended that any money, whether contributed by occupiers or owners, should not be under the strict surveillance of the vestry. As to the Bill now before the House he did not propose to go over old ground, or to offer any argument that was founded upon his own particular views of the measure. He should offer arguments only on two heads, and upon both of them he expected to receive the entire concurrence of hon. Gentlemen opposite. The arguments, it appeared to him, might be divided into two heads—the one was an inherent defect in the Bill itself; and the second, that it stood in the way of any practical dealing with the question. The principal objection to it was that it was not merely an infringement of, but an actual prohibition to the parishioners of every 1285 parish in this country against exercising a system of independent local self-government which had been in operation from very early times. If the Bill was carried it would put an end to the common law right of the different communities of the country to determine by conference among themselves what was desirable for the maintenance of the property which belonged to the parish, and to decide upon raising the money which was required for that purpose. The church rate differed in no degree in the mode of raising it from any other rate. The highway rate, the rate for mending roads and bridges, and the poor rate derived their origin from the same source, and originally stood upon the same footing as the church rate. It was, according to our Saxon Constitution, an element inherent in every community, in every parish, to meet and determine for themselves how they would support properly the fabric of the Church, and how raise amongst themselves the money. It was true that by statutes these rates had been placed upon a different foundation, and that the jurisdiction over them had remained in the common law courts, for which reason there had been no difficulty about them. The difficulty with regard to church rates had arisen from the fact that the jurisdiction over them had from time immemorial been in the Ecclesiastical Courts, and that its application was, therefore, very difficult. If they took advantage of that circumstance to get rid of the power of the parish to assess itself for a church rate, would they not deal a blow at the whole principle of self-government? If they passed the Bill they would deprive the people of the country of a right which they had possessed for at least 500 years, without providing any substitute for it. The Bill alleged no grievance, and it announced no principle. He believed that there were good reasons why it should not do so. If a grievance had been alleged, the House might have applied the remedy which would have met it. If a principle had been announced, the opponents of the measure would have known how they were hereafter to manage their concerns. No one, however, denied that the complaint, whatever it was, was made by a portion of the community not exceeding one-half, and, therefore, for the sake of pleasing one moiety or less of the community they were about to do an act which, it could not be denied, would be objectionable to the other half. Was that a mode of legislation which was either con- 1286 formable to precedence or in accordance with the practice of Parliament? Then as to principle. If the preamble of the Bill had said, "Whereas it would be an improvement that the repair of churches should be provided for entirely by voluntary contributions," the House would have known what would be the consequences of the Bill. He asked in what manner the friends of the Bill proposed that the repairs of the Church should be provided for. They on that side of the House objected to give up the right, which the people of England had enjoyed for at least 500 years, of meeting in parishes and providing for their expenditure by an equitable assessment. They were as eager as the hon. Baronet himself to remove the evil of the existing law. He himself two years ago expressed before a Committee of the other House of Parliament the opinion, which he still retained, that personal exemptions on account of difference of religious persuasion ought to be allowed, and that was, in fact, the only principle upon which they were in future likely to deal with the matter. Any measure that could carry out that principle would be acceptable to him; and he wished any such measure to be put upon the footing which would be most agreeable to those for whom exemption was to be enacted. He quite agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Collier) that nothing could be so bad as to draw a hard line between Nonconformists and Churchmen; and he also thought that nothing could be worse than to deprive any portion of the ratepayers of their interest in the parochial property. If those principles were agreed upon why did they differ? The hon. Baronet said that the House was not so much determining in the usual form upon the third reading of the Bill as sitting in Committee to see if they could agree upon a compromise; and he intimated that some slight modifications might be introduced into his plan. That would have been very well if that had been the second reading of the Bill, but at that stage no alteration could be made, and it, therefore, appeared to him that the necessary preliminary to a compromise was the removal of the Bill from the Table of the House. In his opinion it was the duty of the hon. Baronet rather to withdraw than to move the third reading of the Bill, the effect of which would be to shut the door of compromise, which they were all anxious to keep open. He believed that there were 1287 on both Bides of that House hon. Gentlemen who said that a great principle was at stake, and, therefore, they could not agree to any compromise. What was the principle which was at stake either on the one side or the other? The hon. Baronet disclaimed distinctly the principle of separating the Church from the State. Then, what was the principle for which he contended? Did it go beyond this—that it was improper to compel a man to contribute towards the maintenance of an edifice for religious worship of the congregation of which he did not form part? If that was the principle, he did not dispute it. But what was the principle contended for by hon. Gentlemen who held extremely opposite opinions? He had during the last fortnight received from the country many letters asking him what on earth he was about in attempting to effect a compromise upon the question, and asking him if he was not aware that there was a great principle involved in it. He confessed that he saw no principle in the matter, except that of devising the best means of repairing churches, and providing the necessaries of public worship in the manner which should be least onerous to those who paid and least objectionable to those who were excluded. If it were a financial question only, it was surely susceptible of settlement. If it were not, then he asked to have it shown to him what that principle was which stood in the way of an equitable settlement of the matter. The courses open to the House might be fairly represented by the different phases of opinion which existed at the present moment. There were those who raised the cry of "No surrender!" and said that they would never give up church rates; there were those who declared that they would be content with nothing short of converting the Church of England into a sect; and there were those who did not agree with either of these parties, but were determined to have an arrangement. The small number who, in that House or out of it, entertained either of the extreme opinions to which he had referred was a sufficient indication to the representatives of the people that the true course for them to pursue was to act in accordance with the wishes of the third party. More than that, he denied that it was possible to avoid the adoption of such a course. It might be put off for a year or two, but to that they must come at last, because the time would arrive when people would be sick of the annual agitation, and 1288 would force the House, by an argument which they could not resist, into making some arrangement. He was not going to justify or argue upon the plan which had been referred to. It was offered upon a condition which was not accepted, and the House must look upon it as having dropped. It would, however, probably be expected that he should, without discussing the details of any scheme, state the principles upon which he thought that an arrangement might fairly be made. In a matter of the kind, affecting the social habits and the arrangements of the every-day life of men residing in country parishes, he was persuaded that the only safe course was to ascertain what was the old plan and the old principle, and to depart from that as little as possible. What was the old principle of the church rate? Until the Reformation only one religion was tolerated, and those who did not pay their church rate were excommunicated and treated as heathens. At the Reformation a new light, thank God, broke upon us; the Bible took the place of the Church as the guide of our consciences. And, subsequently, various statutes introduced the widest religious toleration or equality. The practical conclusion which he drew from the course of our legislation for the last 300 years was that a man who separated himself from the Established Church ought to have provided for him the means of separating himself from the expenditure which was required to keep up that Church. Practically every Nonconformist excommunicated—he only used the word for the purpose of illustration—himself. The old penalty had become obsolete, but why should not the practical distinction be retained? The proper mode of dealing with this question was to allow every man, if he thought proper, to exempt himself personally from the obligation to contribute to a rate which was to be applied to the support of a Church of which he was not a member. Let the principle be admitted, and all the rest would follow naturally. Let it be accepted in the form in which it would be least offensive; let it be carried out in such a form as should not, if possible, cause the faintest allusion to religious differences; let it not be pressed in the least degree beyond its legitimate limits. Let them not require that the person who did not contribute to the church rate should give up any right as a parishioner of which they would be sorry to see him deprived; but all must admit 1289 that he could have no claim to a voice in the management of funds to which he did not contribute, and that while he paid no rates he ought not to have a seat in the church. At the same time he did not wish to prevent his regaining that seat or to sever his natural connection with the parish church, the parish churchyard, and anything belonging to it. Let those who objected to church rates be satisfied with that personal exemption, and he believed that a large majority of the Members of that House would be prepared to sanction such an arrangement. He should himself support it for the reasons which he stated two years ago. He believed it to be, not a concession, but a necessary inference from the toleration which had been the rule for the last 300 years. He accepted it readily, because, as a Churchman, it was a pain and an annoyance to him that for the services of the Church, which he venerated, any money should be contributed with a reluctant and grudging hand. Let them, then, suppose that such an arrangement as he had referred to, allowing personal exemption from church rates without reason assigned, had been made, how would it affect the landlord? In order to put the case in its least invidious form, he would slate how it would affect himself. He was the sole owner of a parish in which he had six or seven tenants, and where there had never been any difficulty about raising the small sum which was paid annually for Church purposes. If the arrangement of which he had spoken was adopted, Farmer A might take advantage of it, and pay no rate. Farmers B, C, D, and E, although they were quite ready to pay their own rates, might naturally object to pay those of A also. What should he do as the landlord? He should say that it was better that they should all be exempted, should take care that the rates were paid, and should arrange with his tenants individually. Was there anything wrong in that, and was it not what must inevitably result from the adoption of the scheme for giving personal exemption? That result was present to his mind when he introduced one clause which had been animadverted upon into the plan which he submitted to the lion. Baronet. At the same time, while he thought that landlords ought to take upon themselves so much of the expense now met by church rates as arose from the repair of the fabric, he admitted that under the circumstances it would be unwise and inexpedient to im- 1290 pose that obligation upon them by statute. Then came the question of personal exemption. For that he was prepared to vote, and so were many other Gentlemen; but the Bill of the hon. Baronet prevented any measure with that object from being laid on the table of the House. He did not suppose the hon. Baronet himself expected it would pass. He might believe—erroneously, as he hoped the result would prove—that the third reading would pass in the House of Commons; but there was another branch of the Legislature, and in the present state of public feeling, with one-half of the community distinctly objecting to the Bill, and with adverse opinions expressed by a very large number of highly respectable persons in all parts of the country, he did not believe the lion. Baronet could expect the measure to be sanctioned by the other House of Parliament, so as to become law. Was it not better that the Bill should be stopped now? He was in a position to state that, within a very few days after the Bill was got rid of, the House would be asked to allow a proposition to be submitted affirming the principal of personal exemption in a shape which was intended to be unexceptionable, such as every Nonconformist could accept without difficulty; and, if any one could point out a more easy or unobjectionable mode of defining those exceptions, his hon. Friend by whom the Bill would be proposed would have no objection to listen to reason. He asserted that no principle was involved in the Bill, or if there were any principle it was one he would describe as that of common prudence. Common prudence showed the importance of endeavouring to arrive at a solution of the question by mutual concession. To agitate it year after year only rendered it more difficult to attain any safe conclusion. If the struggle continued, the blame must rest on those who rejected all attempts at compromise. Disagreeable as that word might be, mutual concessions must be made, and the old English principle of give and take must prevail in the long run. He was not one of those who thought that a great principle was involved, and that a great "no surrender" struggle was a duty cast on all Churchmen. He would not argue the question on any grounds higher than those of common sense, common prudence, and "financial desirability." But the Session ought not to be allowed to pass without some scheme of a practical nature being at nil events placed on the table. Such a 1291 measure ought, in the first place, to respect the religious principles of those from whom they differed; secondly, it ought to retain for Churchmen their old common law right of levying money wanted for the repair of churches by the old plan of a rate; and, in the third place, it should produce as little disturbance in the existing arrangements in parishes as was absolutely necessary to meet the difficulties of the case. For, let the door of exemption be opened ever so widely, there would still be a large number of parishes in which from the first the new law would be inoperative, as they only asked to be let alone. Lastly, the arrangement, whatever its nature, should not leave it in the power of either side to claim a triumph. Believing that the Bill now before the House was bad in itself, and prevented any adjustment in the spirit to which he had referred, he begged to move that it be read a third time that day three months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."
§ LORD ROBERT CECIL
said, as he also had taken part in proposals for a compromise, he begged to second the Motion of his right hon. Friend. He thought it a most satisfactory feature of the debate, not only that the right hon. Gentleman had spoken in that conciliatory tone which he always adopted when addressing the House, but also, that on the other side of the House a very great anxiety had been shown by hon. Members who supported the Bill to disconnect themselves from that which had now become odious—from association with the Liberation Society. It was exceedingly unjust to charge upon hon. Members who did not deserve it any connection with that society, and he much regretted that the hon. Baronet, the Member for Tavistock, should have suffered from an accusation he so little merited. But when he stated the grounds on which, mistakenly, perhaps, Members at the Opposition side of the House had been led to bring a charge of association with the Liberation Society against the party opposite, the House would acknowledge that there had been some reason for their doing so. Some time ago an hon. Baronet, a very distinguished Dissenter, and a man highly respected in that House, disclaimed all partnership with the Liberation Society, in these terms:—"In taking the course he now did he begged to assure the House 1292 that he had never taken any part with the enemies of the Church. No man deplored more than himself the existence of the Liberation Society." That was a very satisfactory announcement from the hon. Baronet, the Member for Finsbury (Sir Morton Peto). But, unfortunately, in ransacking old newspapers, he came across a copy of the Liberator, a paper known to record the views and to represent the opinions of the Liberation Society. In it he found an account of a meeting in 1859, and there, to his extreme astonishment—having listened with such pleasure to the disclaimer of the hon. Baronet, the Member for Finsbury—he read as follows:—Sir M. Peto, Bart., who was received with loud cheers, said,—In order to be useful in Parliament or out of it, it was necessary not only to be very sincere and straightforward, but also very clear in one's sentiments; and when he stated that he sympathized with the object of the meeting, and desired to labour with those who conducted the affairs of the society, they would feel, he hoped, there could be no mistake about his views. It wag also necessary, in order that a man might be useful, that he should be prudent in advocating his opinions and conciliating to those who differed from him. There must be no shrinking from principle in the House of Commons in the present day. He remembered that in the earlier stages of the society he had felt some hesitation in identifying himself with it, because he felt there was not that kindness and liberality shown towards those who differed from it which he felt should be entertained; but he must admit that the conduct of its affairs, especially during the last three or four years, had thoroughly recommended it to his adhesion and support, and he had no hesitation in thoroughly identifying himself with it.With two such documents before him, the speech of an hon. Member in the House of Commons on one side, and his speech in the Liberation Society on the other, was it so very odd that hon. Members should rather distrust these loud disclaimers of the Liberation Society? When the hon. Baronet the member for Finsbury, who, as he had already stated, was highly respected, and would no doubt be able satisfactorily to explain this apparent inconsistency, found no difficulty in combining these opposing incentives to action, might not other Gentlemen be similarly situated with regard to their opposition to church rates? Another document came under his notice within the last few days. It was headed "Serious and immediate," and it was addressed "to the ministers, office bearers, and others connected with the various Nonconformist bodies throughout North Derbyshire." It said—Dear Friends,—Very special information has 1293 reached the Church Rate Abolition Committee relative to the means already in active operation to defeat Sir J. Trelawny's Bill on the 5th of June.And it proceeded to state that the two hon. Members for Derbyshire having recently modified their opinions on the subject of church rates, the undersigned respectfully urged—Every Nonconformist minister, office-bearer, and layman, of whatever denomination, in your county to write at once to Lord G. Cavendish and Mr. Thornhill, and not to cease their communications until there had been received a distinct assurance of their intention to be present at the division on the 5th of June, and to vote for the Bill.A reason was given for that extreme pressure, for the authors of the circular, it seemed, did not regard a victory in the House of Commons as sufficient, recent discussions about the House of Lords having given them new views of constitutional questions—We must employ all legitimate means to defeat this plan, more especially as the carrying of the Bill a third time to the House of Lords will introduce into the discussion a constitutional issue between the two Houses, which can only end in one result.That was the view of the functions of the House of Lords, and of the tone which the House of Commons should adopt towards it, that had been propagated in the country by the measures which had recently been passed. He particularly wished to call attention to the signatures attached to this document. These were—Edward Steane, D.D., and J. H. Hinton, M.A., secretaries of the Baptist Union; George Smith and Robert Ashton, secretaries of the Congregational Union of England and Wales; Apsley Pellatt, chairman of the Dissenting Deputies; Robert Eckett, secretary to the United Methodist Free Churches; William Cooke, ex-president of Methodist New Connexion; R. Brook Aspland, M.A., secretary of British and Foreign Unitarian Association.All these names represented the various Dissenting bodies who formed the strength and backbone of the present agitation against church rates; but last of all came the well-known names of "William Edwards, Charles J. Foster, Liberation Society." The hon. Baronet the Member for Tavistock told them that if the Bill were not passed this year he would hand them over to the secular arm. He did not know exactly what the "secular arm" meant, but he supposed it was the hon. Member for Birmingham. Personally, he should rejoice at the change, for the hon. baronet the Member for Tavistock always held the anguage, and he believed enter- 1294 tained the sentiments, of a sincere friend of the Church of England. In defending the Church of England against one whose sentiments were orthodox, Gentlemen at that side of the House were placed at some disadvantage. Gibbon declared that nothing "was so dangerous as the virtue of priests," and, from his point of view, that was a just observation. He would venture to paraphrase that sentence by saying that nothing was so dangerous as the orthodoxy of Radicals. He should, therefore, rejoice if this agitation were handed over to the hon. Member for Birmingham, who, by his previous language, his known sentiments, and the political support on which he relied, was well entitled to be placed at its head. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Plymouth (Mr. Collier) said it was a disgrace and a shame to a Christian country that the question should so long remain unsettled. In that sentiment he entirely coincided. But the question was who was guilty of the delay? It was protested on the other side of the House that the measure was proposed in the spirit of civil and religious liberty. There were two kinds of liberty—that of the parish and that of the individual. Since the decision in the Braintree case nobody would dispute that the liberty of parishes had been absolute and complete. But some parishes liked to adopt one course and some another; and some, not content with carrying out their own views, came forward and said, "We will compel other parishes to do as we like also." The Bill, promoted in furtherance of that spirit, was not a Bill of liberty and enfranchisement, but of disfranchisement and forfeiture of privileges which had been held for a thousand years. It was a Bill of pains and penalties to punish those parishes which liked to levy church rates; it was an attempt to impose on the majority a Procrustean rule, coercing them to forego their own inclinations; it was an attempt to fix on all the opinions and the actions dictated by the inclination of the few. But, then, it was represented, not as a question of parochial, but of individual liberty, and it was held to be a grievance that individuals should be forced to pay for the support of a system in which they did not believe. Hon. Gentlemen on his side of the House, though they might not perfectly agree with that opinion in theory, were yet prepared to give practical expression to the view that those who did not hold the tenets of the Church of England 1295 should not be called on to contribute towards her support by the payment of church rates. But when they sought to carry their view into practice they discovered that the conscientious objection referred to a conscience of a very peculiar kind. It was not a conscience that objected to worship in the edifices of the Church of England, to enjoy all Church privileges, to use her churchyards, to attend her sacraments, or to avail itself of the ministrations of her clergy. It was simply a conscience which objected to pay for what it enjoyed; and in that respect it was like a conscience which was very common in the world, only it did not usually bear that name. He agreed with the lion, and learned Member for Plymouth in thinking that the form of the exception was a secondary matter. Whatever form was adopted it would be equally a register of Dissenters. The hon. Baronet the Member for Tavistock (Sir John Trelawny) said, that by cutting too sharp a line round the Church of England they would lose a great many of those who would otherwise join her communion. He could not understand the extreme anxiety shown by many sincere persons to retain those who, as it were, hung outside our religious system with an impartial affection for church and chapel, who went to chapel in winter because it was warmer than the church; and who went to church in summer because churches were generally larger than chapels, and who were so completely impartial that they usually refused to support either one or the other. These were a kind of amphibious religionists, with whom he owned he had no manner of sympathy, and whose numbers he believed had been very much exaggerated. With those who were anxious to spread an opinion in the world, or to maintain a creed, the text, "those who ore not for us are against us," was of universal applicability, and was the only road to success. And if they made efforts to claim men who were mere waverers in opinion, who when a stress came would desert, or, at least, give them no genuine support, they were but wasting their resources and sacrificing their principles for an unworthy object. An opinion such as he had adverted to be had even heard from his hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), and he was the more surprised, because at a time anterior to his own political experience his hon. Friend had been the whip of a party. Did he then value the waverers and mere 1296 outsiders? Did he think the men who always failed him at a pinch were worth the sacrifice of any principle to conciliate them? The hon. and learned Member for Plymouth, using a word which had almost grown classical in Parliamentary language, said that, whatever they did, they must not "ticket" Dissenters. The hon. Member for Birmingham, who was the originator of the phrase, told the House on the second reading of the Bill that the old Puritans were the fathers of the present Nonconformists, and that the spirit of the old Puritans still lived. Hon. Members at the present day might differ from the Puritans, might condemn many opinions which they held, and many acts which they did; but, at least, they must acknowledge them to have been some of the noblest characters in our history. They maintained earnestly and fearlessly, not only against public opprobrium, against the frown of power, but against absolute and cruel persecution, the opinions which they held and the faith in which they believed. If any of them could rise again, he was convinced they would disown their degenerate children, who regarded it as a stigma to be ticketed with the name of their own belief, and wished to enjoy the luxury of Dissent in secrecy and obscurity. But he could well understand the feeling of the hon. Member for Birmingham, and those who acted with him, for entertaining peculiar views on the question of secrecy; they had for years been asking the House to apply that secret policy to our political system. It was by a natural transition that those who sought the secresy of the ballot should dislike to bring their religious opinions into the light of day. He would not, however, believe that these Gentlemen really represented the Dissenters of the country. He could not doubt that the latter would repudiate with disgust the imputation that they were ready to slink into a corner, and that, for fear of losing a certain amount of social caste, they wished to conceal from their friends and neighbours the creed and the opinions they professed. The failure of all proposals for a compromise betrayed the objects and policy that were at the bottom of all the professions of the abolitionists. If they were really anxious for the relief of personal conscience, such flimsy objections as had been put forward in regard to "ticketing" would not have been urged. Such objections proved what the evidence of the Liberation Society, the avowals of liberation 1297 newspapers, and the speech of the hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) on the second reading of the Bill abundantly showed—that a considerable number of those to whom the agitation on the subject was due were actuated, not by the desire to obtain civil and religious liberty and toleration, but to pull down the Church of England from the national position it occupied at present. Although, therefore, he did not entirely go with the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) in his proposal, he was not sorry it had been made. He thought it established that those who sat on his (the Opposition) benches, at least, were anxious for the settlement of the Church-rates question. If the proposal for a compromise had come from the Opposition under other circumstances, it might be liable to misconception; but now, when the tide had turned in their favour, when the divisions in support of the Bill had diminished year by year, when the House of Commons were equally divided, and an overwhelming majority of the House of Lords were against the abolition, the country would discern between the real advocates of liberty and toleration, and those who only concealed under these fair names the bitterness of political hostility and the desire for widespread and revolutionary changes.
MR. HARVEY LEWIS
said, that representing as he did a large and important constituency (Marylebone), he felt it would hardly become him to give a silent vote on a question of such magnitude. He would not, however, trespass too long on that indulgence which the House generally conceded to a new Member. He wished to express the pleasure he felt in hearing the very conciliatory speech in which the opposition to the Bill had been conducted by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt), who had so carefully and so gracefully avoided personal allusion of any kind. Whatever the division on this measure might be, it was consolatory to all who intended to vote, as he did, in favour of the Bill of the hon. Baronet (Sir John Trelawny), to know that an endeavour had been made on the other side of the House to satisfy the just claims of the Dissenters. The position of the question was this. Both parties grounded their course of action upon conscientious principles. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for North Wiltshire evinced a desire to waive the principle of compulsory collection in the case of those who con- 1298 scientiously objected to the payment of church rates.
§ MR. SOTHERON ESTCOURT
What I said was, I would never assent to give up the mode of raising the money by means of a rate.
Be that as it might. It might be true that church rates had lasted a thousand years. The time, however, had now arrived when they ought to cease. They all looked with love and respect upon the venerable fabrics of the Church of England, and wished to see them kept in thorough repair. As a sincere Churchman, however, he felt convinced that in voting for the Bill of the hon. Member for Tavistock he was conferring a great boon on the Church. The Established Church ought to live in the hearts and affections of the people, but that result could never be obtained so long as so wretched and miserable an occasion of bickering and quarrelling was maintained. To abolish church rates would, therefore, be, in his opinion, to cut out a festering sore that was eating into the very vitals of the Church, and weakening its influence in the country. The voluntary principle had been so preeminently successful that the Church need not fear the smallest possible damage from the abolition of church rates. Let any one consider what the voluntary principle had done among the Dissenters. Chapels erected in every part of the country were nobly sustained, and their ministers provided for. So far were Dissenters from wishing to hide their opinions from the light of day, that these chapels were filled to overflowing. Then see what the voluntary principle had performed within the Church itself. Could hon. Gentlemen, unless they held pews of right, obtain accommodation in any parish church in the Metropolis? Churches and chapels had arisen in connection with the establishment which were maintained and kept in repair, and their ministers supported, by voluntary contributions. The Church Missionary Society sent preachers of the Gospel to almost every part of the world. Almost every town on the Continent had its place of worship, supported by voluntary contributions, where Englishmen could worship God according to their conscience. He had that confidence in the liberality and religious feeling of members of the Established Church that he was sure they would not permit their sacred edifices to fall into decay. On the contrary, when Churchmen felt that the support of their places of wor- 1299 ship depended on their own contributions, our churches would, he firmly believed, be kept in a far better state of repair than many of them were at present. He had no hesitation in giving his vote in favour of the Bill of the hon. Member for Tavistock.
§ MR. CROSS
said, he was not going to enter into the question of the merits of church rates. He would assume that the vast majority of hon. Members and of the country at large were in favour of a settlement of the question in some shape or other. The only thing for consideration, therefore, was the form the settlement should assume. It was asserted that the only mode of settling the question was by the total abolition of church rates. That, however, he did not call a settlement of the question, but removing it out of the way altogether. He would not deny that persons on his own side of the House had, on the other hand, hoisted the flag of "No surrender." These, however, were the two extremes, and these extreme opinions were only held by a small minority in the House. The great body of independent Gentlemen on both sides of the House wished to see a fair and practical settlement of the question without delay; but when they came to define what the settlement should be, a difference of opinion manifested itself. Some held that the only way in which the question could be settled was by redeeming or buying out church rates, as, for example, the land tax was redeemed. He did not hold that view, and thought that the only practical way of settling the question was that pointed out by the right hon. Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt)—the recognition of the principle of personal exemption. That opinion was, he knew, held by many hon. Members on both sides of the House, and it was, perhaps, the only mode of securing the practical settlement of the question now and for ever. What was the settlement which he (Mr. Cross) proposed? He would propose that all persons who objected to pay church rates should have an opportunity of stating that they did so. He would not propose any settlement which he thought was not likely to be accepted by reasonable persons who objected to the payment of church rates. He believed it was a sound principle in legislation to find out where a grievance existed, and then remove it. Dissenters complained of the payment of those rates as a grievance, and though he could not see the 1300 force of the argument, yet, as it was used by them, and as they said they had an objection to pay the rates, he would allow them to say that they so objected, and would on that declaration relieve them from payment. He would not advise anything to be done which might have the effect of withdrawing men from the pale of the Church, and of registering them as members of any other religion. He did not want to deprive the Church and churchmen of the right of meeting together in vestry as they had done for hundreds of years, for the purpose of talking over Church matters; all he would ask was that persons who objected should say so, and that on the statement of that objection they should be relieved from the payment of the rates. He would not even call on any person to say why he objected to church rates. He believed the effect of such a system would be that many who differed from the Established Church would willingly pay church rates. Churchmen might object to pay if they chose. The plan, he had no doubt, would work well, and he believed that in a few years no more complaints would be beard on the subject.
§ MR. T. DUNCOMBE
said, he rose to order. The hon. Member was discussing a proposition which was not before the House. He was arguing in favour of some compromise of his own. But the House had before it a Bill for the total abolition of church rates. The hon. Member's Bill was not on the Table.
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, it was perfectly true that in strictness the debate ought to be confined to the Bill actually before the House; but on many occasions like the present, when Bills on the same subject were under consideration, a greater licence was conceded to hon. Members who addressed the House. If the hon. Member had been present earlier in the debate, he would have found that such a latitude had been already granted to more than one hon. Member.
§ MR. CROSS
said, he should be the last person to trespass wittingly on the rules of the House. He had only been anxious, in stating the grounds why he opposed the third reading of the Bill, to show the principles on which he thought the question ought to be settled. When a person declared that he objected to the payment of church rates, he would, of course, not attend the meetings of vestry, though he might rely on his interests being protected 1301 by his name being omitted from the list of ratepayers. He thought that the question should, if possible, be settled during the present Session. But it was impossible, at that period of the Session, to discuss any mode of settlement so long as the Bill of the lion. Baronet was before the House. It was, therefore, necessary that that obstruction to the settlement of the question should be removed before they could proceed to the consideration of any other measure. The country was anxious to deal with the subject on its merits, and he felt himself justified in saying that if the Bill of the hon. Baronet were out of the way the Bill which had been shadowed forth by the right hon. Member for North Wiltshire would be brought forward within a few days, which would enable the House to settle the question is a satisfactory manner.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
If the opinions expressed by my right hon. Friend (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) are shared generally by hon. Gentlemen opposite it is plain that there is no wide interval between the views of the two sides of the House, and that the settlement of this question on principles of the widest toleration is by no means distant. The objection made by the Nonconformist body to the existing system of church rates is not an objection to fiscal burdens, but one based on conscience. The noble Lord (Lord Robert Cecil) said this objection was hypocritical. [Lord ROBERT CECIL: I never used such a word.] The noble Lord did not use the word, perhaps; but his argument went to show that the conscientious objections of Dissenters were at least insincere. He urged that they were limited to particular cases, where they had an advantage in pleading them, and that where there was no advantage their objections did not appear. My conviction is that these conscientious objections are sincere on the part of the great body of Protestant Dissenters in this country, who protest against contributing funds for the support of a Church with whose religious views they could not sympathize. The grounds on which Dissenters object to church rates are, therefore, not founded on the pecuniary pressure of these rates; and it is impossible to urge any valid answer to this conscientious objection. It may be treated with sneers and ridicule, but it is impossible to deny its reality and its efficacy on the minds of the persons on whom it acts. It should be borne in mind that precisely the same objection was 1302 treated as a ground of legislation in the case of Ireland. Vestry cess was abolished in Ireland on the very ground that conscientious objections were entertained to paying it by the Roman Catholics, who formed the great body of the Irish people. That ground applies exactly to the case before us. The main argument used against a change of the law on the part of the Established Church is that if there is no compulsory charge levied upon the body of the ratepayers for the maintenance of the fabric of the church you destroy the essence of an Established Church; but that argument seems to me void of strength, and, moreover, it was disregarded in the case of Ireland. Because, although I admit a charge in the case of Ireland was substituted, and the Church was not left without sufficient provision for its repairs, still the compulsory charge upon the community by taxation for the maintenance of the fabric of the church was abandoned, and, therefore, it cannot be said that there was left that compulsory charge which is of the essence of a national rate. Looking, then, at the dissension caused by the existence of church rates and the absence of any cogent argument on the part of the Church for their maintenance, I am prepared to vote for the third reading of the Bill. At the same time I am ready to enter into the discussion of the proposals that have been made on the opposite side. I contend that it is quite competent to us to discuss these proposals to-day. If they were in the shape of Bills before the House it would be irregular to enter into any discussion of them now, but as they are mere proposals, brought forward in speeches and in other forms, it is quite competent for us to consider them in connection with this Bill. In the first place there is the proposal of the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Cross) which is founded on the Report of the Committee of the House of Lords. The essence of that proposal is, that you shall start on the assumption that every occupier is a member of the Established Church—that you shall charge him with church rate, and then leave every individual ratepayer, without alleging that he dissents from the Established Church, to claim, if he so chooses, that his name may be struck off the list of ratepayers.
SIR GEORGE LEWIS
At all events 1303 his name is to be omitted from the list of ratepayers. Substantially, the plan of the hon. Gentleman is what I have stated. If any ratepayer enters an objection his name is to be omitted from the list. Now, my objection to that system—which is based on the most extensive toleration—is that it reduces church rates to a mere voluntary payment, and deprives them of the character of a rate. Supposing a person who wishes to have his name omitted from the list should nevertheless fail to make an objection in time, it seems hard that you should issue a distress warrant against him when, if he had made his objection a few days earlier, he would have been freed from such a possibility. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) laid down his proposition, and said he wished to exempt from the payment of church rates those who objected to support a church the principles of which they disapproved. But on that ground how can you maintain the principle of a national rate? If you lay down that principle you concede the doctrine on which the Bill of the hon. Baronet is founded. All the hon. Baronet asks is that you should not subject Dissenters to the payment of church rates. [Cries of "No, no!"] I cannot see any practical distinction between the two proposals. The only distinction lies between a general and a personal application of the same rule. If you admit that all persons who dissent from the Established Church are to be exempted you destroy the character of a compulsory rate, and then you must come to the principle of a total abolition of the rate. I cannot see, therefore, that there is any standing ground for a distinction between the principle laid down by the hon. Baronet and that advocated by my right hon. Friend, for the essence of a rate is that it should be general and compulsory. Then, my right hon. Friend opposite proposes a plan in which there shall be two rates—one a rate of a penny in the pound, being of the nature of a land tax; and the other a voluntary rate on occupiers. I confess that that plan seems to me to introduce a new complication into the question, and that in a form highly inexpedient. It has been generally recognized as a principle in these discussions that we are not to give to the Church a stronger remedy than that which it now possesses, or to put it in a more favourable position than that which it now occupies. But if you lay a charge on the land to the extent of a penny in the pound it would 1304 no longer be the voluntary rate now imposed by a majority of the vestry. Another objection to the plan is that it would not remove the scruples of those who object not to the amount of the rate, but to the principle of it. On these grounds I am not favourable to the compromise suggested by my right hon. Friend. But if this Bill is passed in its present form, conscious as I am that in the great majority of parishes, including nearly the whole of the rural parishes, a church rate is made by general consent, I am not prepared to say that that would be a satisfactory state of the law, or one that could remain for any long time. Hon. Gentlemen opposite have seen various plans proposed. Perhaps they will allow me to state my plan. I am not at all sanguine that it will be favourably received by any considerable number of Gentlemen opposite, but still I will take the liberty to state it. The objection I have to the plan of the hon. Member for Preston is that it starts with the assumption that every occupier in a parish is a member of the Established Church, and puts upon those who are not members of the Established Church the obligation of keeping their names off the list of ratepayers. That gives rise at once to a system very much objected to, and which has been called ticketing Dissenters. I would proceed in a reverse direction. I would begin by laying the charge on those who are members of the Church, and who testify their membership by attendance at a place of worship. I know the objection there is to the principle of pew-rents; but I cannot admit that the objection has much weight in it, except what may be derived from accidental associations. We know that pew-rents are paid to a great extent in the metropolitan churches; in fact, a large majority of them are maintained in this manner, and so also are the district churches in the country. But Gentlemen seem to think that there is something objectionable in the name of pew-rents, and that they are unworthy of the character and position of an Established Church. It seems to me that a list should be made of persons attending the church and forming the congregation in each parish, who should form the vestry, and that there should be a power of imposing a compulsory rate upon them, which should possess all the legal qualities of a rate. I cannot see that this proposal is open to objection. There would be no ticketing of Dissenters, and I believe the system would work harmoni- 1305 ously in rural parishes, and provide a sufficient fund for the maintenance of the fabric of the church. I am quite aware that Gentlemen opposite will think this an insufficient plan; but I mention it as my contribution to the list of suggestions that are being made, and I trust the House will give me credit in making it for a sincere desire to bring about a practical settlement of this important question.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he had for many years opposed the abolition of church rates, as a spoliation of the Church, and an interference with the parochial system of this country; and when he considered the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, he felt that while it was not quite analogous to the scheme for "ticketing Dissenters," which was deeply objectionable, it would "ticket Churchmen," and not only ticket Churchmen, but it would tax them also, and them only for the benefit of the whole community. If there was any title to the possessions of the Church of England, whether in the shape of glebes or tithes—if there were any title to her position as a national Church, it consisted in this—that she was a Church maintained by the nation, at the cost of all, for the benefit of all. That the principle on which he had ever upheld the Church of England as the National Church The noble Lord, the Member for Stamford (Lord Robert Cecil), had thought fit to refer to him as having formerly held a position in connection with the party on that side of the House, and to infer that he had departed from the principles upon which that party was formed. His (Mr. Newdegate's) special connection with that party had long ceased. He was an independent Member of the House. But he had been the first accredited officer employed in the formation of that party in 1845. He acted alone for more than a fortnight in the formation of that party, under the late Duke of Richmond; and, perhaps, he might be allowed to be some judge of the principles on which that party was formed. The party was strictly national. The principles on which that party was formed embraced the maintenance of the Church of England as she existed in that blessed completeness which she derived from our forefathers, and in the comprehensiveness which the Church acquired at the Reformation, when an hon. Member of that House accused him of having departed from those principles—
§ LORD ROBERT CECIL
said, he had 1306 never stated anything so preposterous as that the hon. Gentleman had departed from his own principles.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, the hon. Member accused him of having abandoned the principles of that party. [Lord ROBERT CECIL: NO, no!] Then what was the meaning of the noble Lord when lie alluded to his having been formerly whipper-in of that party? He should be sorry to believe that he was alienated from those with whom he had so long acted, because they had narrowed their views of the Church of England, and would consent to her being treated merely as a sect instead of being the national Church of the country. Undoubtedly, she permitted great difference of opinion. She comprehended the noble Lord, and she comprehended himself. He did not complain of that. It was a glorious attribute of the Church of England that by her principles, her doctrines, and her discipline, she was fitted to be the national Church of a country in which the expression of great latitude of opinion was allowed; and it was because he feared that if either of the plans he had heard suggested, that suggested by the right hon. Member for Wiltshire, or that indicated by the Home Secretary, for narrowing the incidence of the charge for maintaining the fabric, it would practically narrow the organization of that Church that he objected to all personal exemption on the score of opinion. He objected to the proposal of the hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Cross) because, disguise it as they would, it would ticket the Nonconformists. He objected to the suggestion of the right hon. the Home Secretary, because it would both ticket and tax the Churchmen for the benefit of all. What he hoped would be done was this—that as property had always been liable to the charge of church rates through the occupation thereof, that now, when it was found that large bodies of persons were unwilling to submit themselves to the discipline of the Church—unwilling to be bound during their whole lives by the doctrines of the Church—and still more to any personal liability for the maintenance of the Church—that the whole difficulty would be swept away by creating a provision for the National Church out of the property of the country, which was always liable to it, and by abolishing all personal liability to any charge whatever on account of the Church. That seemed to be consistent with a wide toleration and almost with equality of religious opinion. 1307 Let them not destroy the National Church because some objected to it for their whole lives, and others for a part of their lives; but let them make provision for her maintenance in her full extension out of the property on which she had a claim which was perfectly indefeasible. Until some such proposal was made he must object to the Bill of the hon. Baronet, the Member for Tavistock, on the ground that the National Church had a claim on the property of the nation, which would remain unsatisfied by the total abolition of church rate without a substitute, whereby the Church would be despoiled of some £300,000 a year, which was essential to the performance of her functions, and upon the ground that by his measure, without intending it, the hon. Baronet would go far to break up that parochial system which lay at the foundation of our self-government, and was one of the primary elements of the Constitution.
§ MR. BUXTON
said, he would not have spoken at all upon the subject under discussion, but that he thought it desirable that as there were many hon. Members on his side of the House, who entertained an earnest wish that the question of church rates should be amicably arranged, some one of them should give expression to his opinions in that respect. He quite concurred with those who thought that the tax was one which in its present shape was attended with serious evils, but he could not help thinking that the force with which those evils were felt constituted a good reason for accepting nine-tenths of that which the opponents of church rates required, if they found they could not obtain that which they sought for in full. It was, he might add, quite obvious that they had not come off quite victorious in the struggle, inasmuch as, while two years ago they had a majority of seventy-one in favour of the second reading of a Bill for the abolition of the tax, that majority had last year dwindled down to thirty, and in the present Session to eighteen, so that if that process of diminution were to continue they must on the next occasion expect to have a majority of only half a Member. Then the question would still have to be dealt with by the House of Lords, and it was under those circumstances obvious that, while much ill-will would be created, church rates would not be done away with for the next forty years, unless some amicable arrangement with respect to them were arrived at. His opinion, therefore, was, that the scheme 1308 suggested by his right hon. Friend opposite was a generous proposal, and indicated a liberality on the part of hon. Gentlemen sitting upon the other side of the House which would be in striking contrast with that displayed, by those who sat upon the Ministerial side, if they refused to entertain it. The effect of the scheme would, he thought, be virtually to abolish church rates, while at the same time, those members of the Church of England who wished to rate themselves for the maintenance of their parish church would be provided with the necessary freedom and machinery for the purpose. He had simply to say, in conclusion, that he believed he was speaking the sentiments of a large number of hon. Gentlemen on his own side of the House when he asked the Government to direct their attention during the recess to devising some settlement of the question based upon the principle indicated by the right hon. Gentleman to whom he referred.
§ MR. BRIGHT
Sir, I think that my hon. Friend who has just sat down is one of the most easily persuaded and credulous mortals with whom it has been my lot to have met for some time. Now, I am willing to go with him in his expression of admiration of the speech of the right lion. Gentleman opposite; nothing could be better, unless it had a slight admixture more of what he might probably have got from this side of the House. But we must recollect that the right hon. Gentleman has only within the last few days sent round to all the Members of this House the terms of a proposal which he himself, after the most mature deliberation, was prepared to recommend for the adoption of Parliament. The right hon. Gentleman says, indeed, that we are to consider that proposition now as laid aside, but that we are not to look upon it as one which he himself disowns, or one which he does not think it reasonable to make. But, instead of adopting the plan of the hon. Member for Tavistock to abolish church rates, he proposes that there should be two church rates, and that they should be perpetual in scores and hundreds of parishes in which the tax has for several years not been levied. ["No, no!"] Yes; his theory is a limitation to five years, but we know that every year the number of parishes in which church rates are still granted is diminishing, whereas the number in which they are abolished is increasing. I, therefore, contend that no simple fish in a pool ever rushed so foolishly at a fly as the hon. 1309 Gentleman who has just spoken, when he rushes at a proposition like that which has been simply put forward in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman, and which has never been put in the shape of a Resolution, so that we may definitely know in what it actually consists. For my own part, I undertake to say that if the right hon. Gentleman makes a proposal which practically includes nine-tenths of the Bill now under discussion, many hon. Gentleman, indeed, I believe the majority.—on his own side of the House would at once reject it. Now, I hope I may not shock anybody when I say that I, for one, am weary of these church rate discussions. The noble Lord opposite (Lord Robert Cecil) is a lively Member on the subject, but he must not be surprised if that be not my case, seeing that I have listened to debates with respect to it for the last fourteen years, and that I myself have taken up no small portion of the time of the House in discussing the matter. I have, however, the great consolation of believing that we have during all that time made some progress. We are, it is true, a slow people, and Parliament is slower than the nation; but, notwithstanding these facts, we have attained to a certain amount of information upon the question, as is clear from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman opposite who brought us to this point—a conclusion which, when I first entered the House of Commons, was denounced as something fearful—that the Church of England, excluding, of course, from consideration the property of the State which is intrusted to her or which she may in any way possess, shall henceforward be supported in her services and the maintenance of the fabric of the church by the contributions of Churchmen alone. That is the principle which the right hon. Gentleman has admitted to be a fair one, and to be in conformity with the opinions entertained upon this subject on the other side of the House. Then comes the question, how is this principle to be carried into effect? I may say that all the plans that have been submitted to the House of late have adopted this same principle, from which I am confirmed in my belief that we have made astonishing progress in this question; and possibly, when we get a little further on in our discussion, we shall be able to get what hon. Gentlemen would not hear of when I first came into Parliament. However, we are agreed upon this, hat only those who are churchmen should 1310 be expected to support the Church of England. The hon. Member for Preston (Mr. Cross), who has taken a course upon this matter the fairness of which I admit, and which does him great credit, proposes that anybody who objects to pay church rates shall be entitled to do so, and that there the question in dispute shall end. Now, that looks exactly like that to which we upon this side of the House ask you to accede. It cannot, however, be precisely the same thing after all, because if it were I do not suppose you would object to the proposal of the hon. Member for Tavistock. The noble Lord the Member for Stamford has, among others, the "No Surrender" flag, if I do not mistake. I will not try to settle the differences between him and the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, but it is quite clear that he spoke of the question to-day in a very different spirit from what he used to do: at the same time I think he might yet learn something of a more conciliatory manner from the hon. Member for North Warwickshire. But the question comes now to this—how are we to accomplish this object? The hon. Member for North Warwickshire says that the right hon. Gentleman, instead of ticketing Dissenters proposes to ticket Churchmen. I have no objection to this plan if they will reverse, its application; if every person shall be free but those who choose to write to the vestry and say that they are willing to pay, I shall be satisfied. You want a compromise, my hon. Friend the Member for Maidstone is great for a compromise. Well, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge brought in a most elaborate Bill which was also a compromise; yet these measures never corresponded with the views of hon. Gentlemen opposite, so far as I heard them expressed. The hon. Member, too, last year made a proposition which did not meet the acquiescence of the House. Some Members of the Treasury bench also brought forward plans in past times, but they also were unsuccessful? Why has all this been the case? Simply because those proposals did not hit the grievance which is complained of, and I would now ask whether hon. Gentlemen opposite hit it when they say that they are ready to assent to the suggestion that Churchmen only should be expected to pay the tax for the future? Are they, in acceding to that suggestion, willing also to get rid of that which Dissenters feel 1311 to be a certain legal supremacy on the part of the Church of England with respect to this question? [Ironical cheers.] Hon. Members opposite are well aware that I do not in this matter shrink from the open avowal of the opinions which I entertain. I told the House on the second reading of the Bill under discussion that the question at issue was not one of £250,000 as between Churchmen and Dissenters, and that it was impossible to settle it except on the ground of perfect equality as between the Church and other sects, so far as the tax itself was concerned. I am quite sure you Churchmen would despise us Dissenters if we held other language than this, and we shrank from making avowal of the principles we hold. You cannot for a moment suppose a contest which has been maintained incessantly for twenty years turns altogether upon the payment of a penny or a halfpenny in the pound in the shape of a rate. There must be in this matter something deeper, and he is no friend of the Church and no true statesman who hopes to settle this question without taking that fact into consideration. The right hon. Gentlemen the Member for Wiltshire said, that by passing the Bill you will please one-half the population and aggrieve the other half; but I do not think that the right hon. Gentleman was quite correct in saying that. Everybody will, I think, admit that in nearly all the parishes where the payment of church rates has been contested there have been found friends and members of the Established Church who have openly protested against the continuance of the tax. I have heard of a case in which an amendment pronouncing in favour of a voluntary rate was seconded by the curate of the parish, and I know of one which took place in Somersetshire, in which, when the vestry met to levy a church rate, the clergyman of the parish, knowing that a contest with all its attendant evils was impending, told his friends—who I believe constituted exactly half the vestry—that he was ready to give a cheque for £70 or £80 out of his own pocket rather than that his parishioners should be thrown into the state of turmoil which he anticipated would be the result of persevering in levying the tax. His friends, however, did not think it reasonable that so great a burden should be thrown upon him, and probably not wishing to pay the required money themselves, preferred to encounter a contest in order to raise it, and the rate 1312 was, I believe, eventually carried. But here you have the fact that one of these men, whom you so much and so deservedly respect, being aware of the multiplied evils which were likely to ensue from persevering in levying the rate, offered, in order to avoid the contest, to pay a large sum out of his own pocket. He is one of those men of whom Chaucer says—Christ's law and His apostles' twelveHe taught; but then he followed it himself.There are, I believe, many more—hundreds more—clergymen of the Church of England who would from the bottom of their hearts thank you if you were this Session to pass the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Tavistock. The right hon. Gentleman, however, brought forward a new argument. We are told that in taking that course we should be striking a blow at the root of that parochial system which it is said tends so much to foster our freedom, and which is so much admired within these walls. But the right hon. Gentleman opposite himself proposes that in the case of those parishes in which a church rate has not been imposed for five years—that is to say, in the case of one-third or one-fourth, or one-fifth of the parishes of England, as it may be—to abolish this parochial constitution of which you speak, and last Session the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer made a proposal somewhat to the effect that in all populous and town parishes church rates should be abolished, but that in all rural parishes they should be continued. With respect to that proposal I may be permitted to observe that there are in the rural as well as the town parishes thousands of Dissenters who object as strongly to the payment of the tax as any persons resident in the towns, and that if you abolish it in the one case on conscientious grounds, it would be intolerable, monstrous, incredible, that you should seek to continue it in the other. I have got a plan of my own upon this question, but I do not offer it to the House as an original one. My theory of the present Bill is, that if we accept it, it will leave the parishes entirely free, and it will leave the churchmen in every parish also free. It will leave the parishes free for that voluntary rate which is now found to be sufficient to support all the churches which have been built during the last fifty years, and all the chapels of all the Dissenting bodies in the kingdom. But I have heard 1313 it repeatedly stated in this House and elsewhere that it would be better for Church congregations and Churchmen if they had some machinery. They have not, it is said, the machinery which Dissenters have in their congregations; they have not so strict a line of membership; and, therefore, they would be at some disadvantage in arranging their affairs when the new system was introduced. I admit there is some force in that, and anything which the House could do with the view of providing a remedy should have my hearty support. But why should not the machinery you have suffice? The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary referred to a plan which has been submitted to many hon. Gentlemen in the shape of a pamphlet by some person who, I believe, was once a Member of this House. The writer of that pamphlet proposes that you should leave everything just as it is, only abolishing the summons, the magistrate, and the bailiff; that you should meet as you meet now and agree upon a rate; in point of fact, that you should do precisely that which has been done in the parish of Manchester for as long as I can remember. The rate is arranged somehow by those who will have the spending of it, and a bill is sent round, as in old times, for the amount, but it has the words "optional rate" printed upon it. What is the result? The other day I saw that the old cathedral had been repaired in a manner which it has not been accustomed to for some centuries. In the parish in which I live the Church churchwardens, not the Dissenting churchwardens, advertise themselves to the ratepayers as particularly worthy of their confidence on the ground that they will never again permit a church rate in the parish; and yet the old parish church is in a condition in which the oldest inhabitant never saw it before, and never hoped to see it until the church rate was abolished. I saw, then, that I had pointed out what is probably the best mode of dealing with this question. There is another plan which, if adopted, would meet the objections raised by the Chancellor of the Exchequer last year. It will be recollected that the right hon. Gentleman made a speech which was much more gratifying to hon. Gentlemen opposite than many he has delivered during the last few weeks. I understand, indeed, that the violent antipathy which they have to him on financial questions subsides altogether when he comes to discuss church rates. 1314 The right hon. Gentleman complained of the harshness of our proceedings. He said that if we threw all these parishes at once from what I call the Protective theory to the free trade theory, from the theory of compulsory support to a system of voluntary support—if we pitched them, as it were, off their ancestral platform, and put them in the more modest place which Dissenting congregations now occupy—we should act with great harshness and severity towards them. I admit, for the sake of argument, that there is something in that, though I do not think there is; but, supposing the hon. Baronet the Member for Tavistock were asked to introduce words by which his Bill should not come into operation until after the lapse of three or four years—supposing the Chancellor of the Exchequer could step in now, with his church sympathies, and his wise and intelligent views on questions generally, and propose to mediate between the two sides of the House in the manner I have just suggested—what would be the result? I speak with no authority, but I do not think the hon. Baronet would object? and I know too much of those who are in correspondence with him out of the House to believe that they would make any serious objection to what might prove an amicable settlement of this question. I am prepared, of course, to vote for the Bill; but I say that if you wish to settle this question on different terms; if you are willing to pass a clause which shall withdraw the compulsory power of levying a rate, leaving your present machinery in other respects as it stands; if you are desirous that the Bill should not come into operation for three or five years—in either of these cases, I think we might even this Session, arrive at an amicable, if not an unanimous termination of this contest. What are we proposing to do? First of all, we exempt all men from the legal obligation of paying church rates; and, in the next place, we enable all men, who choose to support the fabrics and the services of the Church, to do so by means of the machinery which now exists. I cannot see that there would be the slightest difficulty as to the working of it, and I am quite sure there would be no difficulty as to the pecuniary results. Hon. Gentlemen opposite evidently think—I see it from the smile of incredulity on their countenances—that such as I am cannot make a friendly suggestion to their party or to the Church. If they had taken more of my advice years ago they would 1315 have had fewer irritating contests and humiliating defeats. If I could bring before them all that their own Church has done during the last fifty years, they would feel it to be the direst insult which could be offered to them for any man to say, that in any parish throughout the country, the beautiful and ancient parish church would not be properly maintained if the rate were abolished. I cannot turn to any part of the kingdom—I care not whether it be in England or Wales, in Scotland or Ireland—without seeing what has been done by appealing to men's feelings, by evoking their religious sympathies, by exciting their ideas of independence, and even by encouraging the much lower feeling of rivalry. Appeal to the feelings under which all men act, withdraw the law, and the Church will spring from the low ground on which, in this matter of compulsory rates, it now rests, to an altitude which it has never yet attained; and in the course of a few years there is not a Member on the other side, not even the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, who will not admit that the Church he loves so well and defends so jealously, has found in me, and such as me, the best friends she ever had on the benches of the House of Commons.
§ MR. HUBBARD
said, the hon. Member for Birmingham had talked of the difficulties of settling this question, but he wished to know who had created those difficulties. Hon. Members on his (Mr. Hubbard's) side of the House had offered one measure of conciliation after another; they had first proposed a measure of exemption, which he admitted was objectionable in matters of detail, as it required a Dissenter to go before a magistrate and make a declaration of his belief; it was afterwards proposed to accept a simple declaration of objection as a ground for objection; but all those successive plans were objected to. There must be some secret reason for rejecting these repeated offers of conciliation. The hon. Member for Birmingham told them that the difficulty lay in the supremacy assumed by the Church in claiming the right to levy church rates. But that objection to the supremacy of the Church went to deeper questions than the mere levying of church rates; it touched the question of a Church 1316 establishment; it struck, in his opinion, at the position of a Sovereign on the Throne. He felt sure that the question would not be settled till hon. Gentlemen on the opposite side did their parts as hon. Gentleman on his side were doing theirs, and would agree to a basis of arrangement founded on a recognition of the Church and of the great principle of civil and religious liberty, and which would respect alike the rights of Churchmen and Dissenters.
§ MR. STANSFELD
said, that the question had been discussed rather as one of policy than of principle, and in the few remarks that he should make he would endeavour to continue it upon the same grounds, for the question of principle having been granted the question of method was the only one which remained to be solved. In approaching the subject, although he had not arrived at the same conclusion as the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Buxton), he had not been influenced by partisan feelings, but by public considerations, and the conviction at which he had arrived was that hon. Members on his side of the House, in reference to the measure before them and others of a cognate nature had been making claims upon the Church, each one of which, if conceded, would be a weapon taken from the hands of those who were supposed to seek the destruction of the Establishment; and that, on the other hand, the policy which had been pursued by the advocates of the rate was one which, more than anything else, was calculated to raise the question which he and his friends had not raised in that House—the separation of Church and State. It had been said that those questions which in their inception were questions of conscience, had become questions of supremacy. He accepted that antithesis with the qualification that the question of supremacy had been added to that of conscience which still remained. But, besides that, it would appear that in the opinion of some hon. Members a great discovery had been made, with reference to the principles and objects of a society which had been in existence for many years, which had never concealed its objects, and which, no doubt, duly felt the obligation which it owed to hon. Members on the opposite side and noble Lords in "another place," for giving further publicity to those objects and principles. An attempt had been made to identify the advocacy of the present Bill with the name and with the principles of the Liberation Society. If had been Said that all Dissenters who de- 1317 sired the abolition of church rates did so simply with the view of destroying the Church, and it had been argued that the abolition of church rates would be a step towards the destruction of the Church as an establishment. He denied the accuracy of the statement in point of fact, and he disputed the soundness of the argument. The name of the Liberation Society had been imported into the discussion upon two different occasions by the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Lord R. Cecil). On one occasion the noble Lord hoisted the flag "No surrender," but on that occasion he had come down to the House and attempted to play the part of a conciliator, and said, "We believe we wore mistaken in charging you with advocating the views of the Liberation Society; prove that to us by accepting the compromise which we have put on the table of the House." But for the interests of the Church herself it was essential that a broad distinction should be drawn between the Question of an objectionable and unnecessary supremacy—which the supporters of the Bill had raised—and the question of the separation of the Church from the State, which the supporters of the Bill had not raised. There was a time in the history of the country when the Church and the nation were as one. The Reformation took place, and then, step by step, came the recognition of the right to dissent from that which was itself an act of dissent. Toleration, beginning as a protest of the moral against the intellectual man, gradually rationalized itself until it merged into a claim of equal right; and now it would not only be an act of simple justice to Dissenters, following out the principles of legislation by which we had been guided since the Toleration Act, but it would also be an act of true wisdom as far as her own interests were concerned, if the Church were fearlessly, and of her own motion, to divest herself of every power and faculty which was not absolutely and strictly essential to her character as an establishment, and to place herself in accordance with the spirit and ideas of the age. It would be seen that the question of supremacy, viewed in the light in which he had placed it, was totally different from the question of separation, which some hon. Gentlemen bad endeavoured to import into the discussion. The idea of separation was based, not upon any claim of civil and political right, but upon a belief that, it was preeminently for the interests of religion 1318 that it should be free from the trammels of a connection with the State. No scheme of compromise had been, or could be, submitted to the House which would not be objectionable to Dissenters, and which they would not regard as degrading. He believed, indeed, that all schemes of compromise were vain, mischievous, and dangerous. In saying they were vain he agreed with the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who had admitted that it would be useless to offer as a boon that which the organs of the party to which the offer was made chose to consider an offence. In saying they were mischievous, he agreed with the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, because he believed they would tend to perpetuate and intensify those dissensions and that antagonism which the House ought to endeavour to assuage; while, in saying-they were dangerous, especially to the Church, he agreed with the noble Lord the Member for the City, who had declare if that any plan for the exemption of Dissenters would denationalize the Church and reduce her to a sect. Compromise, there fore, was impossible, and he believed that Churchmen would before long arrive at a knowledge of the fact. He could not avoid coming to the conclusion, on those grounds, that hon. Members had no alternative between the present unhappy state' of things and the measure now before the House; that if they would look boldly and steadily into the face of the question, the visions which they themselves alone had conjured up would melt away; they would acknowledge that they had got rid of an element of weakness rather than of strength; the fabrics and the services of the Church would be maintained with a liberality hitherto unknown, and new life and vigour would be given to the Church which they desired to sustain.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
The hon. Member for Birmingham (Mr. Bright) objected to the speech of the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Lord Robert Cecil) on the ground that it was not sufficiently conciliatory. Such an objection comes, no doubt, with peculiar appropriateness from the hon. Member for Birmingham, whose whole course of political conduct, all will readily admit, has been emimently conciliatory. Then the hon. Member for Birmingham objected to the speech of the hon. Member for Maidstone (Mr. Buxton). On what ground? Because he spoke the language' of common sense, and called attention to the fact that the majority for the un- 1319 conditional abolition of church rates, once sixty or seventy, was dwindling away, until at last it amounted to only eighteen, and by the way the hon. Member forgot to say that in the last division it had diminished still farther to nine; so that the energy and eloquence of the hon. Member for Birmingham have led to the gradual diminution of the majority by which this question has been supported. The speech of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department deserves more consideration than it has received. When the House is in difficulty it naturally turns to the Treasury Bench for instruction and edification. The right hon. Baronet commenced his speech by stating that the time was not far distant when the settlement of this question might fairly be expected. I was consoled on hearing that statement from the right hon. Gentleman, because I came to the conclusion that he was about to explain how and in what manner that satisfactory settlement could be obtained. He then proceeded to explain to the House the difference between a rate that would be universal and compulsory. There, with all respect to the right hon. Gentleman, I think he fell into a mistake, because, although a rate might not be general, yet, as far as it extended, it might be compulsory: and there would be no difficulty on that ground. The right hon. Baronet next insisted on the analogy between church rates and vestry cess in Ireland; but he admitted that the first thing the Legislature did on abolishing vestry-cess in Ireland, was to provide a substitute for the maintenance of the fabrics of the church. It may be a strong measure to abolish a certain number of Bishops, but as between the parish clergy and Bishops I give my vote in favour of the parochial clergy, and the fund obtained from a certain source was first and foremost applied to the maintenance of the fabrics of the church. That case surely affords no argument in favour of a scheme which professes to provide no substitute for church rates. Then the right hon. Baronet, greatly to my surprise, after having argued in favour of a compromise for a considerable time suddenly turned round and declared that he was about to vote for the measure of the hon. Member for Tavistock—a Bill for the unconditional abolition of church rates. The right hon. Boronet having declared that he felt constrained to give that vote, went on, with a logic peculiar to the Treasury bench, to take a survey of the plans 1320 proposed, with a view to compromise by my right hon. Friend the Member for North Wilts (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) and others; and then, to my infinite astonishment, proposed a plan of his own; and having discussed all these propositions—having declared that the time was not far distant when a satisfactory settlement of the question might be expected—his logical conclusion was to vote for a Bill which goes entirely in opposition to all these plans and anticipations. It is absolutely impossible to reconcile his logic with his vote. I greatly prefer his speech to his vote; and I submit to his better judgment—it was his reason, and no doubt his conscience, struggling against the position in which the Ministry stand in reference to this matter—I appeal to the right hon. Baronet, as several plans have been proposed in favour of a conciliatory settlement of this question, to give us the benefit of his vote as well as of his speech, and not to vote for a measure which makes any or all of these plans impossible. The hon. Member for Birmingham has spoken a speech to my infinite surprise. He referred to the various plans which had been proposed; but none of them lead to the same conclusion he supported. Why he is a Saul among the prophets. He would let the matter stand over for three years. He admires the ancient and venerable fabrics of the Church—as who does not who is a Christian?—established as they were by a Christian people for Christian worship; he is half in favour of our case; he is willing to let it stand over to consider his own and other plans, yet he imitates the example—speaking with unfeigned respect—of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department, who has throughout the Session spoken, I must say, one way and voted another. The hon. Member for Birmingham dropped an expression which caught my ear as being very significant. He said this question was one deeper than money, and which the true statesman must consider. I perfectly agree with him. It is a question that goes deeper than money, and which statesmen are bound to consider. Accordingly, statesmen on both sides of the House have, considered it. There is no desire to carry out any extreme course against conscientious Dissenters—although I have always a slight hesitation when: I find conscientious objection verging towards the pocket—but I believe them sincere; and plans have been proposed on both sides for the satisfactory settlement 1321 of the question, yet the hon. Member joins with the right hon. Baronet in voting for a Bill which renders the adjustment of the question impossible. The hon. Gentleman who spoke last said this is a mere question of policy, and no principle at all is involved. I controvert that statement. It is not a mere question of policy. It is one of principle. The hon. Member who spoke of supremacy, and who said the question of the separation of Church and State had not been agitated—although he intimated that it might be raised—went broadly upon principle. We, too, contend for this question as one of principle, because from the earliest times the Christian Church has been interwoven with the State; the State has stood by the Church, and I believe the Church has taught nothing but Christianity. When it is said the separation of Church and State has not yet been agitated, a clever practical man like the hon. Member for Halifax would not, I am sure, be surprised to find it agitated. We have made no aggressive movement. We act generally in defence. The party with which he is connected is indefatigable. They make the aggression. But they have been opposed with a vigour and a power they were not prepared to meet, and the position in which this question stands to-day arises from the spirit and unanimity with which their attack on Church and State has been resisted. We are not in the position of assailants; we are not asserting any supremacy; but while we are for maintaining the old principle of the Constitution, and settling this particular question in the fairest and most amicable spirit, how are we met? By a direct proposition to abolish church rates, with an intimation that we ought to be very grateful that the great question of separation between Church and State has not been mooted. I shall conclude my observations with a few words expressing deep truths from a writer whose name is familiar to many hon. Members. The author of The Book of the Church says—From the time of the Revolution the Church of England has partaken of the stability and security of the State. We owe to it our moral and intellectual character as a nation, much of our private happiness, much of our public strength. Whatever should weaken it would in the same degree injure the common weal; whatever should overthrow it would in sure and immediate consequence bring down the goodly fabric of that Constitution whereof it is a constituent and necessary part. If the friends of the Constitution understand this as clearly as its enemies, and act upon it as consistently and as actively, then will the 1322 Church and State be safe, and with them the liberty and the prosperity of our country.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided: Ayes 274; Noes 274:
§ And the numbers being equal,
§ MR. SPEAKER
said, if the equality of voices had arisen in an earlier stage of the Bill I should have had no difficulty in the course I should pursue; because, guided by the rule which has been established by many able men who have preceded me in this chair, I should have desired so to vote as to give the House another opportunity of deciding the question for itself, rather than to have taken that decision into my own hands. But that rule does not prevail on the third reading of a Bill. We have now reached the third reading of this Bill, and I find that the House hesitates, and is unable to express a decision, whether this law shall stand or shall be changed. As far as I can collect the opinion of this House from the course of the debate, it seems to me the general opinion of the House is in favour of some settlement of this question different from that which is contained in this Bill, and I think I shall best discharge my duty by leaving to the future and deliberate judgment of the House to decide what change should be made in the law, if it should be their pleasure to make a change, rather than to take the responsibility of the change on any single vote. I, therefore, give my voice with the "Noes."
§ Words added: Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to. Bill put off for three months.
§ House adjourned at Five minutes before Six o'clock.