§ MR. SOTHERON ESTCOURT
said, that he rose for the purpose of submitting to the House certain propositions by which he thought the law relating to church rates might be beneficially settled. He had been under the impression that it would not be competent to him to move the Resolution of which he had given notice without going through the preliminary form of moving that the House resolve itself into a Committee; but, understanding from good authority that no such preliminary step was necessary, he believed it would be more convenient to the House that he should move his substantive Resolution while the Speaker was in the chair. He hoped the House would permit him to preface his Motion by a few observations, seeing that he was engaged in the dangerous task of endeavouring to make peace between contending parties. He was blamed on both sides. He was blamed by those who thought it was indiscreet on his part to move in this matter again during the pre-
§ MR. DEEDES
said, that observations had frequently been made in that House as to the expense of the Commission. A great deal of outlay was incurred by the preparation of returns, which, when furnished, were never made use of, or found to be of the slightest value. It was for the House to determine whether they would refuse returns of the kind, which required a great deal of time and attention to prepare, and which were attended with considerable expense. He hoped the House would not assent to the Motion of his hon. Friend.
§ Return ordered, "of Grants, &c. for 1861, by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, as follows:—
§ sent Session. Those persons said, "You have gained a certain amount of success; why are you not contented with it?" On the other hand, it was said, "Why do you proceed to push your advantage in an unfair manner? Why do you by this Resolution, which you allege to be conceived in a conciliatory spirit, endeavour to continue evils which you pretend to remove? "Those representations came from two perfectly distinct and different parties in that House, from neither of whom he expected sympathy or aid; but he thought, on the one hand, it was impossible for Parliament to allow the law relating to church rates to remain exactly in its present position, and, on the other hand, he thought Parliament was not likely ever to consent to the settlement proposed by some hon. Gentlemen in that House—namely, the total abolition of church rates. Under those circumstances he ventured once more to ask the attention of the House, while he endeavoured to show that the proposition which he was about to have the honour to submit to them was a step in the same direction as that taken by him some six weeks ago, when they were 991 good enough to sanction his proposal. As he understood it, the differences that existed on the subject of church rates was this:—The Nonconformist complained that he was expected and required voluntarily to give his vote for the levy of money in a case where he contended he had no interest in the outlay. The grievance of the Church was this:—That whereas, undeniably, there was a charge on the property of this country to perform certain obligations, the machinery which the law allowed for giving effect to that obligation was often illusory, and in some cases incapable of being put in practice, and that, under all the circumstances, the duty was not performed in a satisfactory manner. What were the means which had been suggested for the removal of those grievances? There was, in the first place, a proposal—satisfactory in one sense—to substitute for church rates a fixed payment chargeable on property; but, judging from the little progress made with the Bill of the hon. Member for Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), he did not think there was any inclination on the part of the House to adopt a scheme of that kind. His own wish was to make as little change as possible, and, for that reason, he would rather try whether they could not improve the existing machinery. Another plan was to provide resources for the maintenance of the fabrics by means of pew-rents. That was met by the objection that it was the glory of the English Church to give every one a right to enter the building in which its services were performed without being subjected to payment. He was as much averse as any one could be to charging a poor man for a scat in a church; but he could not disguise from himself the fact of its being found in practice that pew-rents were a great convenience in a large number of churches, and he was going to say in every subsidiary chapel in this country, as a means of maintaining the fabric of the church or chapel. The incumbent of a church in one of the large manufacturing towns, where no church rates were levied, wrote to him stating that there were in his neighbourhood four episcopal chapels maintained by pew-rents, while no one could tell how the mother church was maintained. The writer was unable to raise money by pew-rents, and, consequently, was placed at a great disadvantage. He further observed, that pew-rents being permitted in some rich parishes, poorer ones ought not to be spoken of in a disparaging tone when they asked for the enjoyment of a similar 992 advantage; and he remarked that responsible seat-holders ought to be required either to pay for their seats or to relinquish them. Admitting the force of much that was said in favour of such a system, he was not himself in favour of pew-rents, and for this reason, because while in a large parish there was necessarily a great inequality in the position of the parishioners, pew-rents would impose an equal contribution. In a large parish all the occupants of the different pews were virtually on an equality, and to call on them to pay the same sum appeared perfectly fair; but in a country parish there would be the squire and half-a-dozen great farmers, and all the rest would he poor men. In such a parish the payment by pew-rents would obviously fall most unequally. Though he very much deprecated the introduction of the principle of pew-rents, yet he must say, on the other hand, that in town parishes, and in places where a system of pew-rents had been devised by the inhabitants for their own use, and where no objection was taken to this mode of raising the necessary funds year after year, he did not see any good reason for taking any step to hinder those parishes from managing their own concerns in the way most convenient to themselves. The vice of an Amendment which it was intended to move to his Resolutions was that it was not universally applicable, and ho did not think that it would be acceptable to the House as a substitute for a universal charge equally applicable to all parties. A third means by which it was suggested necessary funds could be provided consisted in a voluntary rate. A great deal was to be said in favour of a voluntary rate; but the objection to it was, that it would substitute for an ancient charge, applicable in one sense or other to all property, a resource, which might be universal in its application, but with respect to which there could be no certainty that its application really would be universal. Such a voluntary rate was open to two objections. One was that with the best intentions and arrangements, when the voluntary rate came to be applied to the same population, such as was to be found in a country parish, the drawing of a line of distinction between Dissenters and Churchmen could not be avoided. Another objection was that in small parishes there would be a chance that no funds would be raised at all. Let them take the case of a parish where there were half-a-dozen farmers who looked care- 993 fully after every shilling they were called on to pay. One of them, perhaps, never went to church, and refused to pay the rate. His neighbour might not be a very religious man, but still accustomed to go to church; yet he might alter this habit when he saw that his pecuniary interest lay apparently in the direction of the neglect of religious services. The more he thought upon the subject, the more he was persuaded that the only mode by which the voluntary rate ought to be instituted by that House was by putting it on such a footing as to exempt persons from the obligation of paying, whether Churchmen or Dissenters. A great deal had been said in the course of last Session about personal exemption, but the plan he now offered to the acceptance of the House was, he thought, an improvement upon that proposal. He wished that every occupier should be exempt from the obligation of paying the rate, and that the refusal to pay should imply nothing as to the opinions which the person refusing might entertain. He started with the proposition that the present law should be altered and that the rate should be purely voluntary; but he thought, that at the same time, the House should make provision for the sustentation of the Churches in cases where the voluntary rate should prove insufficient for its purpose. There was only one way by which, in his opinion, this latter object could be effected, and that was by charging the owners of property instead of the occupiers. This was no new scheme, but was one referred to by the Select Committee of the other House in their Report. It was true that the Committee did not virtually recommend it; but they said, however, that it was worthy of the attention of Parliament. He had received on this subject a number of letters in which the writers said, that as the owners of property constituted a smaller amount of persons than the occupiers, their object was merely to diminish the number of discontented persons. This was not the case. What he sought to have affirmed was a principle, which he thought intelligible and easy to work. No one disputed that payments made by occupiers were outgoings taken into account when houses or lands were leased, and his proposition amounted to this, that that should be done directly which at present was done indirectly. The only point of difficulty was how to devise the machinery by which the owners might be collected together and 994 their opinion taken as to whether or not they would pay church rates. His object on the present occasion was to ascertain the opinion of the House on the proposed substitution of owners for occupiers, without calling for a decision with regard to the mere details of machinery. He asked the House to affirm the principle that the rate should be purely voluntary; that the rate, being voluntary, should also be adequate to discharge the parochial obligation; and that the churchwardens should have power to make an appeal to the owners of property to provide necessary funds. He did not desire the House, in agreeing to his Resolution, to affirm anything more than the main question and the principle involved in it. What would be the position of parishes if his Resolution were adopted? No change would, in fact, take place in the form and machinery now familiar to the public. In parishes where church rates were now voted they would be voted still. In parishes where no church rates were levied the same objection would probably continued to be manifested. The owners would probably refuse, in the same way that the occupiers now did, to vote the sum required. It was one of the great advantages of the alteration he proposed that it would require no change of machinery. The only difference would be that the rate which was now enforced could not then be recovered. It would then be in the power of the parochial authorities, if they thought proper, not only to raise the amount required by voluntary subscription, but to make an appeal to the owners of property in the parish. What would each party lose and gain? The Churchman would give up a law which he should be almost justified in asserting to be perfectly inoperative at the present moment—a law enforced by a process so difficult, laborious, and uncertain that it scarcely once led to a legal result. The Churchman would retain the principle which he held in common with him, and which he trusted the House would never give up—namely, that it was a duty incumbent upon the owners of property to maintain the means of public worship, and to take care that their poorer neighbours had the opportunity of attending Divine service. The Churchman would also gain this—that the compulsory rate would be confined to the owners of property, and that the rate levied upon them would be collectable by the proper officers, which was not the case with the present rate. The 995 Nonconformist, on the other hand, would give up the untenable position that he had no common interest in the maintenance of the fabric of the church and the preservation of the churchyard. What did the Nonconformist gain? Exemption of the great body of occupiers in this country from all penal consequences whether they paid church rates or not. He knew how strong a feeling was excited by allusions to religious scruples or constitutional principles, and he also knew that these two great moving principles were very much interested in the solution of this question. But what better or more favourable result could either party hope for than that which he now proposed? Parliament, in the present case, seemed to him to be a court of arbitration between contending parties. The arrangement that would be assented to would therefore be in the nature of an award with which neither party would probably be altogether satisfied. No scheme would be acceptable to persons of extreme views, except that which gave an entire victory to one side or the other. There were, however, many gentlemen both in and out of Parliament who were most anxious that this matter should be settled, and who were, he believed, ready to listen to any fair terms of settlement. He had read many pamphlets and received many letters on this subject. The writers had not, however, suggested any plan that was not open to grave objections, and he was certain that not one of the plans that had hitherto been before the public would receive the sanction of the House. A settlement of this question, to be permanent, must be applicable to every part of the kingdom, and hon. Members would do well to examine, as he had done, what was going on in different parishes by arrangements between the parishioners. Of course, if he were to be responsible for his Resolution, the whole of it must be passed in its integrity. If the House took away one part and altered another, the Resolution would no longer be his. He was not willing, for instance, to charge the owner with a liability unless the House made the rate a voluntary one. Nor, on the other hand, was he willing to make the rate voluntary unless the House gave him a power to go to the owner to discharge the liability if necessary. It might be said that his proposal was a compromise and a concession, and therefore hateful and objectionable. A compromise of doctrine or principle was, no doubt, treason and heresy, and a thing 996 not to be thought of. But this was a question of pounds, shillings, and pence. It did not deal with the Church as a spiritual and moral agent, but only provided for the actual sustentation of the Church in its services. A compromise in such a matter was therefore not only pardonable, but the only solution that was likely to receive the sanction of Parliament. He did not regret that at the present late period of the Session he had done his best to offer to the House a mode of settling this question, which at a future time could be worked out in a measure which might then receive the sanction of Parliament. If he had it in his power to carry his Resolution by a bare majority, he should decline to do so. It was by the general consent, not only of the large body of Members of that House, but of the country at large, that this long-contested question could alone be settled. He ventured therefore to lay before the House a plan, which might not receive their assent, but which, at all events, would be talked about in the country; and if the country did not approve it, a better plan might be suggested. He offered it honestly, as affording a settlement which, in his opinion, could not be objected to on one side or the other. He would not despair of success if people were to fix their eyes on the main consideration—namely, how to remove the grievances complained of, on the one hand by the Nonconformists, on the other by the Church. When he asked Churchmen to give way, it was because he asked Nonconformists to give way also. What was said in country parishes now? "I will resist the rate to the last, because I see no concession made on the other side." He was most anxious to restore that harmony which in so many parishes was disturbed by the church rate question. He knew that clergymen were as anxious to see that done as any Member of that House. How could that result be arrived at? By discussing the matter. Nothing did more harm, or set neighbours against neighbours more, than the long-unsettled state of the question. He did not know whether the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Hodgkinson), or his hon. Friend near him (Mr. Heygate), would think it necessary to divide on the subject; he could not but think their object would be attained by discussion. However, he for one could not consent to adopt a portion only of his Resolution, and he hoped it would be taken as a whole. Thanking the House for the 997 attention with which he had been heard, he begged, with some confidence, to submit the Resolutions to the House of which he had given notice:—
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That the Law relating to Church Rates may be beneficially settled by combining in one measure provisions for each of the following objects:
1. To enable vestries specially summoned, and in which owners shall have a vote by proxy, to transfer from occupiers to owners so much of their liability as regards the repair of their Parish Church and Churchyard; and to make such special Rate, if voted by a majority, recoverable by the same process as a Rate for repairs of Highways.
§ MR. HODGKINSON
(who had given notice of the following Amendment: —To leave out all the words after the figure 1, and to add the following words: To authorize the levy of a rate or rent in respect of the appropriated portion of seats in churches, but so that no appropriation of seats in any church shall be made to a greater extent than now actually exists")said, that he thought the House would agree with him that the right hon. Gentleman opposite had brought this question forward in a fair and conciliatory spirit—he gave credit to the right hon. Gentleman for being one of those true friends of the Church who wished to see this question settled, even at some sacrifice of his own individual opinion; but he was sorry to say there were many, and some of them claiming to he champions of the Church, who would rather see the peace of the Church continually disturbed than by any concession, however small, promote the settlement of a question which afforded a convenient election war-cry, and a strong rallying-point in the conflict of party. He yielded to no Member in that House in his attachment to the Church of England, of which he was a Member; but he could not find it consistent with his convictions to show that attachment in the same manner in which some hon. Gentlemen did. He must, however, dispute the proposition that church rates were a charge upon the real property of the country. A habit was springing up in debates upon this subject of evading the real issue, and of discussing the subject, not on its own merits, but with reference to the programme of the Liberation Society. There was no doubt that this cause had done much to frighten timid people out of their propriety. But were they to be deterred from doing 998 what they considered right and just, simply because there were some persons to be found who coupled with that right and justice other measures to which objections might fairly he made—objections not depending upon the same principle as the objections to that measure which they believed to be right? It seemed to him that this question ought to he settled without any reference whatever to the Society to which he had alluded, and which he believed had very few supporters even upon that side of the House. In the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman, which he stated should be treated as a whole, they had, as it seemed to him, two principles enunciated which were decidedly opposed to one another. The right hon. Gentleman first proposed to sanction the abolition of all compulsory process to recover payment of church rates, making church rates a voluntary tax, and ho next proposed to give additional facilities for the collection of the voluntary rates. In those two parts of the Resolution he entirely agreed, and he did not believe that for the sake of a mere party victory Members on that side of the House would object to the right hon. Gentleman settling this question upon the basis of the two first branches of his Resolution. But the right hon. Gentleman would do away with the whole of the virtue of those propositions, for he proposed, in the other part of his Resolution, to reenact church rates with additional stringency in compelling payment, and without any exemption in the case of dissenters. It was proposed also that owners as well as occupiers should vote at the vestry meetings, sanctioning the objectionable principle that a person who was not to bear any share in the payment of the tax should have the power of taxing others. He gathered from the speech of the right hon. Gentleman that he had no objection to the principle of the Amendment, and that he would not resist it if it appeared as an addition to instead of as a substitute for the third Resolution. When the right hon. Gentleman first gave his notice, it included much the same thing that the Amendment now proposed. At that time, he simply gave notice to move an omission of the fourth Resolution, which now appeared as the third; and it seemed to him, that if the first two Resolutions, together with the Amendment, were adopted, no injustice would be really done to any one, and certainly no injustice would be done to those who dissented from the Church. 999 The principle of the Amendment was that it was advisable to enable the Church to levy a rate upon appropriated seats in each Church, in aid of the maintenance of the fabric and services of the Church. He knew that there was a very strong feeling upon the subject, that great objections were entertained to such a proposition, especially when it was called a seat rent, and he proposed, therefore, to call it a seat rate. A petition had lately been presented in reference to the subject, and with all the reasons therein assigned he entirely concurred. He was not an advocate for the appropriation of seats in churches. He approved of the objects of the society which had petitioned. But the society had been in existence some time, and what had they done? Did any hon. Gentleman believe that it, or any other society, would do away with the appropriation of seats in the parish churches? He should be very glad to assist them in that object, but ho very much doubted whether they would meet with any success. But if they could not cure the evil, it was certainly open to them to extract some good from it, and he had expressly guarded the Amendment from any extended appropriation of seats. That society, then, and hon. Gentlemen who thought with it, ought to support him, because they found that the appropriation of seats was increasing day by day, and what he proposed would put an end to the further progress of the evil. Almost throughout the metropolis the parish churches were parcelled out in seats, and a rent was exacted for the accommodation those seats afforded, and they found that that rent did not always go to the support of the church or the service of the church; but people who held seats were allowed to let them to others, and the churchwardens had not the power, or at all events the courage, to put an end to that state of things. In some cases in the country, persons having a preferential right to seats paid a rent for those seats, and the fabric of the church was maintained in that way instead of by church rates. The parish church of Bolton, for instance, was restored by voluntary contribution; but instead of asking for a church rate a certain portion of the seats were subjected to a seat rate, and in the last year £300 15s. was the amount raised from seat rates, and that was a fund sufficient for the ordinary repairs of the fabric and for those other purposes for which church rates 1000 were appropriated. But did hon. Gentlemen suppose, that if this plan were adopted, the present extent of the appropriation of seats would continue? There were, no doubt, many persons now who, having a preferential right to seats, retained them simply because it cost them nothing to remain. These seats were, perhaps, empty fifty-one weeks out of the fifty-two, and the poor parishioners were excluded from them; whereas if they adopted the system of seat rates, those persons would give up the seats, and they would be available for others. He understood that it was not the intention of the right hon. Gentleman to divide the House upon his proposition, and under these circumstances he would abstain from moving the Amendment of which he had given notice.
§ MR. BUXTON
said, that he regretted that the right hon. Gentleman had felt it necessary to move the first of his Resolutions, as the second and third would have carried out the desire for compromise which had been freely expressed, and would have effected a settlement of this disputed question. He believed that some such settlement would ultimately be agreed upon. While relieving the consciences of Dissenters, and putting an end to every practical grievance—because any one who deemed the system a grievance would be relieved from payment of the impost—it would at the same time avoid any sacrifice of principle on the part of conscientious Churchmen, or anything that could damage the position of the Church of England, all the existing machinery being retained. He thought they had practical proof, that if the present system were done away with, the churches of this country would be maintained as well as they were now, for there was scarcely any instance in which church rates had been enforced of late. There was almost invariably something illegal in the way in which the rates were levied, and which could not be sustained if any one objected to pay them. His own persuasion was, that to adopt such a compromise as he had suggested would tend greatly to increase a feeling of interest in their parish churches on the part of the people. They would learn to regard them as something in which they had a personal interest—as something which it remained with them to determine whether they should be allowed to fall into decay, or whether they should be handed down to their posterity intact. With regard to pew rents, 1001 he knew something of the feelings of working men, and he felt no doubt that what induced many respectable workmen to go to chapels was that in them they could take seats to which they might bring their families, and feel as independent as any gentleman did in his pew in the parish church. If there existed a graduated scale of charges for pews in churches—a number of free sittings being, of course, preserved—the working classes would avail themselves of the opportunity of acquiring seats for themselves.
Sir, in submitting to the consideration of the House the Resolution which now stands in my name, I can assure the House that I am by no means insensible to the difficulties inher-rent in the question with which it proposes to deal—a question which has long puzzled many wiser heads than mine, and which has already received at the hands of all the eminent statesmen of the country every kind of treatment, and every variety of argument and illustration of which the subject is capable; and, Sir, mindful of the old saying that "fools rush in where angels fear to tread," I should have shrunk from the responsibility of again disturbing the question this year but for the fact that the propositions which the right hon. Gentleman has laid before the House necessarily involved a discussion of the whole question of church rates, and that thereby a fitting opportunity was afforded to any one who imagined he saw a possible solution of the question to submit his ideas to the consideration of the House; and, Sir, I think it cannot be necessary to seek far for excuses for any one who proposes any solution of this painful and ever recurring question. All must allow that the law relating to church rates is in an anomalous condition, and most of us will allow that as the matter stands it produces religious animosities, and is accompanied by constant inconvenience and occasional injustice, and has produced in some instances effects injurious to the best interests of religion. I, Sir, am one of those, and I believe they are numerous on both sides of this House, who have never given a vote upon the Bill of the hon. Baronet opposite with unqualified satisfaction; and I cannot but express my deep regret that after the memorable occasion of last year when 274 Members of the House walked into either lobby, followed as that event was by a division this year on the same subject hardly less extraordinary, Her Majesty's 1002 Government have not thought fit to take up this question with a view to its solution, and to grapple manfully with its difficulties; for, assuredly, if ever there was a question which, in Parliamentary language, was ripe for legislation, this one of church rates has arrived at that condition of maturity. Why, Sir, it is notorious that on both those occasions to which I have referred many hon. Members voted as they did, not from a desire to effect the total, immediate, and unconditional abolition of church rates on the one hand, or to maintain exactly the status quo on the other, but with the hope of compelling a speedy settlement of this odious, long-standing controversy. Now, Sir, before I proceed to examine my own Resolution (which I should wish it to be understood I do not propose as a settlement, but merely as the basis of a settlement of this question), let me say a few words on the proposals of the right hon. Gentleman on my right, whose conciliatory endeavours I think entitle him to the gratitude of the House, as well as on that of my hon. Friend the Member for Newark. The right hon. Gentleman has proposed three Resolutions, of which, as they at first stood, I may say that the first amounted virtually to an abandonment of the position for which we have been so long contending; the second, though it might be harmless, did not seem to contain in it the elements of the settlement of the question; and the third, although founded on a principle identical with my own, yet seemed to my mind unnecessarily to complicate the question, instead of laying down a broad, clear, and intelligible position from which legislation should proceed. As the right hon. Gentleman has reversed the order of these Resolutions, and taken the last first, and dwelt principally upon it, I will confine myself to the reasons which induce me to prefer my own proposal to his. Now, Sir, the right hon. Gentleman proposes to enable special vestries to agree to that, which, if it is a just and equitable and desirable thing to do at all, should, I maintain, he done once and for all by the action of the Legislature; for, not only is it objectionable on the ground of its raising a question to be discussed and debated in every vestry in the kingdom, which would result in the establishment of two different kinds of church rate in different parts of the country, according as a vestry might or might not agree to avail itself of this enabling power; but I also think that it is too great a power to concede to be decided by the 1003 accidental majority of ratepayers (and they principally occupiers) in each parish in any one year; so that, instead of settling the question, it would have the effect of raising a new question, which might be the source of endless discussion and debate—the very thing we are anxious to avoid; and, for these reasons, whilst I cordially concur in the general principle of transferring the liability from the occupier to the owner, I cannot think it either right or advisable to carry out that principle by the means proposed by my right hon. Friend. But, Sir, if I am unable to concur altogether with my right hon. Friend, still less am I able to agree in the desirability of the proposal of pew rents, made by my hon. Friend the Member for Newark; for if there is one thing more than another about which there is an agreement amongst Churchmen, it is this that the exclusive appropriation of seats in the house of God had done more than anything else to drive the poor from church (especially in town parishes), and to loosen their feeling of respect and attachment towards the national establishment; and whatever, directly or indirectly, shall tend to perpetuate or extend the existing evil will, I am certain, not meet with the approbation of those for whose benefit it is proposed. The right hon. Baronet the Secretary for War, who seemed a short time since to be an advocate of this measure, appeared to think that it was objected to only by a certain party in the Church, whom he designated as "the Anglo-Catholic Party;" but I will venture to read a short extract from the writings of one who will certainly not be suspected of belonging to the party referred to by the right hon. Baronet, I mean Dean Close, who is reported in a sermon, in a Carlisle church, to have referred to the present system of pew-letting in the following terms:—To my mind it is one of the saddest thoughts that has pressed upon it during my residence in this place, that when people built these churches they were so selfish they built them for themselves, or those who could pay for them. But for those who cannot pay what accommodation do they make? Nothing, 1 will venture to say, but what is an insult to working men. I thank God that the Church of England is awakening to her senses in this matter—to break down the barriers, and throw open her churches, that the Gospel may be preached as free as air. The shabby resort of supporting the clergyman by letting the pews is the most beggarly contrivance that ever entered the minds of men. This is the reason why we have lost so many excellent and worthy Members from our Church; and if, as I become more and more acquainted with the working men 1004 of this place, I recommend them to go to the house of God, where are they to go to? I do not know where to send them. They are locked out, they cannot come in.I trust, therefore, that my hon. Friend will not seriously advocate his proposition. I will not stop to discuss other proposals in the same direction which are not now before the House; but I cannot help thinking, that whilst the ingenuity of man has been employed in devising schemes more or less objectionable and far-fetched, the simplest, the most natural, and the most satisfactory remedy has been, most unaccountably overlooked. That remedy is, I believe, to be found in the plan suggested by Mr. Coode, in his evidence before the Committee of the House of Lords (evidence which every Member of this House who has not already done so would do well most attentively to read), whose proposal, though occasionally referred to, has never been seriously discussed in this House. Mr. Coode, as is well known, was engaged as an officer of the Poor Law Board from the day of its appointment, in 1834, until 1848, and is, perhaps, the first authority in this kingdom on all subjects connected with rating or local taxation of any kind. He had a large part in the proposal of the new Irish Poor Law; he framed the measure whereby half the rate was placed upon the owner, and had the fullest and most satisfactory experience of its working. He proposed in his evidence to apply a remedy for the church rate difficulty, somewhat similar to that which had been attended by such beneficial results in Ireland with regard to the Poor Law, as also in England with regard to tithes—namely, to substitute for the present system, not a voluntary occupiers', as Mr. Cross proposed, but a voluntary owners' rate; that is, a rate to be voted by owners, in an owners' vestry, specially constituted pro hâc vice, to be collected from the occupiers and deducted by them from their rent to their landlord, just as land or income tax is now deducted. Now, hon. Members must not confuse this plan with that of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, who proposed to establish, in lieu of church rates, a charge to be levied with the county rate at a uniform rate of poundage, to which various objections, not applicable in this case, were, I think, rightly urged. But I think I may claim the authority of a great statesman, whose recommendation on any subject is deservedly respected on both sides of this 1005 House, I mean the late Sir Robert Peel, who having in 1835 described this question to be one "so pregnant with the seeds of discord and collision that the Government were bound not to leave it unsettled for another year," did in 1837 sketch out the remedy to which his own mind inclined—namely, a transfer of liability from occupiers to owners. Here are the words of Sir Robert Peel in 1837—If to meet these necessities a sum was to be taken from the Consolidated Fund, it would relieve the landowners of the country from the duty of supporting the Church. Whether there should he a new apportionment of this charge on the land, making the owner and not the occupier contribute (a plan which he owned would, in his judgment, be justice) thus continuing the connection between the landowner and the Church—whether it would be possible to reconcile such a plan with some means of giving relief to the Dissenters, without any invidious test being imposed…… whether it would be possible to do these things, he was not prepared to say, but at least they were deserving the best consideration." [3 Hansard, xxxvii., 326–7.]And, Sir, if it should be argued that Sir Robert Peel, when he returned to power backed by a powerful majority, proceeded no further with this scheme, and therefore he had abandoned it, I say that his real reason was that he imagined that the question had died out and the agitation come to an end. If so, experience has proved how completely he was deceived in that idea, and hon. Members on this side of the House should take a lesson from the past, and not allow a second time the golden opportunity to escape for settling the question on fair and satisfactory terms to all parties. But, Sir, whatever might be the opinion of Sir Robert Peel, it is of more consequence to us to inquire—1st. What would be gained by thus limiting the rate to owners? 2nd. Would such a limitation be just? And 3rd. Would it give the relief sought for by those who now object to the payment of the rate? In answer to the first question, I submit that what is most needed to effect a settlement of the question is a reconstruction of the vestry for the purposes of church rates, and its reconstruction upon such a basis as would include those only who wish to pay and desire to continue the machinery for paying the rate, and that a vestry of owners would effect that object. I believe, Sir, there exists no exact statistics as to the relative number of owners to occupiers; but Mr. Coode, having analysed the lists of places in thirteen different counties, and having personally scrutinized the 1006 claims in several towns (amongst them he mentions Hertford and Cambridge), arrived at the conclusion that in all the places taken there were 9,713 owners as compared with 160,908 occupiers, or, as near as may be, seventeen occupiers to one owner; and, Sir, let us see of whom would this owners' vestry be composed? It would include all those who have the most permanent interest in the maintenance of the parish church, owners not being a fluctuating body like occupiers, here today and gone to-morrow, and who, not only on the ground of interest (as affecting the value of their property), but also by reason of affection and attachment, are anxious for the continuance of this provision for its support. In proof of this I would refer to the Returns obtained by the right hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Walpole) in 1859, whereby it appears that out of 10,026 parishes there were in 1859—
Or, in round terms, it may fairly be said that the landowners were churchmen in 8,803 parishes; in fact, nearly nine-tenths of the parishes which answered the Return. And, Sir, I would ask any one the question which has been repeatedly asked before, whether, when the occupiers refuse a rate in vestry, the owners thank them for it? I think no one will answer that question in the affirmative; and if further evidence be required to prove that the owners, as a class, recognise their interest in this case, I would point to the Scotch heritors, who are to a great extent dissenters from the Established Church of Scotland, from whom objections to the charge upon their properties have, I believe, never yet been heard. Thus, Sir, by the transfer proposed the incidence of the rate would fall, in name as well as in reality, upon those who are most interested both pecuniarily and by attachment in the maintenance of the church; and by the limitation of the vestry all those tumultuous proceedings would be avoided which have been in some places a scandal to religion and a disgrace to a Christian country. And, Sir, I think it is equally easy to prove the justice of such a scheme. It would be just to the occupiers; for I would not propose to deprive the class 1007 whom I would thus exclude from a church rate vestry, of a single right or privilege as regards the Church to which they are now entitled; and, if in obedience to the desires of a large class of occupiers, they are to be henceforth relieved from the payment of the rate, it follows as a matter of justice that the owners alone should decide as to what the rate should be. To limit the rate to owners, and to allow occupiers to vote, it would be a gross case of taxation without representation; and it would be equally just as regards the owners, for it would be as clear as daylight that the letting value of their property would be increased in exact proportion to the amount of burden removed. The real fact is, that the owner already pays the rate indirectly, so that the change which I propose is rather one to remove a statutory fiction, and to satisfy tender consciences, than to transfer an obligation from one class of persons to another. The evidence of Mr. Coode on this point is so clear that, by permission of the House, I will read a short extract from it. Mr. Coode is asked by the Chairman—
Landowners, all Churchmen 1,367 " Large majority Churchmen 7,436 " Dissenters, or about equal 1,050 " Not stated 353 Total 10,206Is it the case that the incidents of the rate, though they primarily fall upon the occupier, invariably in the long run rest upon the owner?He answers—Invariably; it is not by a mere consequence, it is by an arrangement that anticipates all payment of rent whatsoever. No rent is ever set but upon the consideration of all the outgoings that the tenant will have to pay or provide for. Amongst these, and some of the most conspicuous, and the most easily calculated of all, are the rates and taxes which a tenant has to pay. I do not know whether the Committee have had before them the evidence on this subject, but it is very accessible, namely, in the practical experience of every surveyor and of every house or land agent, who would tell your Lordships that he never, in the whole course of his business, attempted to agree or set a rent without first considering all the rates which, a tenant would have to pay, and deducting those from the estimate of the natural or gross rent that the property was worth.And again—Wherever the occupier is made liable as such to any rate, there can never be a question as to the eventual economical operation of that legal liability. You may make a rate upon the owner, or upon the occupier, or say it shall be on lands and tenements; but you cannot, by any device, avoid this certain effect, that if the subject in respect of which the assessment is to be made is the subject of occupation, nobody will come into occupation as a payer of rent without taking that obligation into his calculation as an outgoing, and having the rent reduced accordingly.Then, Sir, there remains the important 1008 question, whether by the plan suggested the relief sought for would be gained by those who desire it; and I think that this is the fact is proved to some extent by the facts I referred to concerning the feelings of owners generally, and the extent to which they are members of the Established Church; but doubtless there are Dissenting owners as well as Dissenting occupiers (though in a much smaller proportion, as I have shown), and some of these might not recognise the advantages and obligations which a church confers or imposes on their property. And I grant that the relief would not be perfect or complete so long as there was a single involuntary compulsory payment. To meet this difficulty, Mr. Coode proposes (and I should not fear the result of the experiment, although I have purposely avoided encumbering my Resolution with any conditions which are rather matters of detail) that any objecting owner should have the power of self-exemption without the imposition of any test; and this is what Sir Robert Peel hinted at in the passage already quoted, and would not be liable to the same objections when applied to owners as might be urged in the case of occupiers; at all events, it would leave no tender conscience unrelieved. Such, Sir, would I venture to think, be the general results of a measure based on the principles contained in the Resolution which I hope this House will, sooner or later, sanction. I am not sanguine enough to suppose it will satisfy all; it will not satisfy those whose aim and object is neither justice, nor equality, nor the relief of conscience, but who merely seek a triumph at the expense of the National Church; but in the firm conviction that such a measure is practicable, and would be just, as well as conducive to what we all profess to wish to serve — the interests of religion, I believe it would be accepted with gratitude by the reasonable and intelligent of all parties throughout the country. I beg to move, Sir, the Resolution which stands in my name—That in order to effect a satisfactory settlement of the Law relating to Church Rates, it is expedient in the first place to transfer their direct charge, together with all powers of imposing the same, from the occupiers to the owners of property.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in order to effect a satisfactory settlement of the Law
relating to Church Rates, it is expedient in the first place to transfer their direct charge, together with all powers of imposing the same, from the occupiers to the owners of property,
§ Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
I shall offer but a very few observations to the House on the question before it, inasmuch as no practical issue has in reality been raised during the course of this discussion. Indeed, the question, as it has been brought under our notice to-night, has assumed a shape rather better suited to the recent meetings of the Social Science Association than to the House of Commons. But, however that may be, nobody can doubt the sincerity of the motives which have induced my right hon. Friend opposite to draw again our attention to the subject, while I think the observations which have fallen from him clearly show the difficulty of effecting any satisfactory settlement respecting it. My right hon. Friend gave notice of his Motion on the 23rd of May, and, as the notice then stood, it was of a character very distinct and definite. It proposed that pew rents should be more extensively collected by means of voluntary arrangement, and then, but only in the event of voluntary contributions failing, that there should be a special meeting of the vestry convened, and a special rate levied to make up the deficiency in those contributions. The right hon. Gentleman, however, very soon altered that proposition materially. The Resolutions of my right hon. Friend have undergone other alterations, and now they are submitted to the House in a shape very different from that in which they were first put upon the paper. I am bound to say that to the first Resolution I think there are very grave objections. That Resolution, if carried into effect, so far from leading to an amicable settlement of the question, would open a new source of discord in every parish. It is to be presumed that the vestry which is to decide the question whether the liability as regards the repair of the parish church and churchyard should be transferred from occupiers to owners is to be composed of both classes of persons. We all know that in an ordinary country parish the occupiers are far more numerous than the owners. As a matter of course, therefore, the latter would be out- 1010 voted; and, upon the whole, I can conceive of nothing better calculated to create bad feeling between owners and occupiers than such a process as that embodied in the first Resolution of my right hon. Friend. Again, as I infer from the statement of my right hon. Friend, the rate payable by owners is not to be the only rate in a parish; on the contrary, there is to be a voluntary rate agreed to at an ordinary meeting of the vestry, payable by occupiers, which rate is to be applied to the general purposes to which church rates are now applicable, the rate payable by owners being devoted exclusively to the repair of the parish church and churchyard. My impression is that such a scheme, as it contemplates two rates and two vestries, instead of simplifying the process by which church rates are now imposed and collected, would intensify and perpetuate the evils produced by the existing system. The question of pew rents has dropped out of the Resolutions, but my right hon. Friend in his speech argued in favour of his original proposition; and I must say that it is very difficult to understand the objections which are made to pew rents, especially when one considers that these objections are advanced by the same gentlemen who acquiesce, apparently with satisfaction, in the exclusive appropriation of certain seats to men of property and their families. It is not pew rents, but the exclusive appropriation of certain seats that prevents the poor having free use of their parish church. Of course, I do not wish to increase the facilities for appropriating pews; but if an exclusive right to certain seats exists in owners of property, why should such an outcry be raised when it is said that the persons so exclusively situated should be required to pay something towards the repair of the church? I therefore regret that my right hon. Friend has abandoned that portion of his Resolutions as they originally stood which related to pew rents. Of the second and third Resolutions I am bound to say that, in my opinion, they embody the only expedient by which, short of total abolition, the question of church rates can be satisfactorily settled. If church rates are not absolutely abolished, what is objectionable in them can be removed only by the repeal of the existing legal process for enforcing their payment, and by making the payment of the rate voluntary. To allow vestries, as at present, either to make a rate 1011 or to refuse it, and to exempt objectors without requiring them to declare themselves Dissenters, would practically amount to the abolition of church rates in the ordinary sense; but it would have the advantage of removing every possible objection on the part of Dissenters, while it would retain the existing machinery for the rate, where a parish is willing to continue it. If my right hon. Friend had submitted to us his second and third Resolution alone, I should have given him my cordial support; but, taking his scheme as whole, I must say that the objections to the proposed transfer of church rates from occupiers to owners are so strong that I do not see how they are to be overcome. The best course would be for my right hon. Friend to endeavour to embody these proposals in a Bill; and then, when we have the Bill before us, we should be able to judge better of their effect. Upon the whole, I am afraid that the present discussion can only tend to show the insuperable obstacles which exist to the adoption of any expedient short of abolition for the satisfactory settlement of the church rate question, with the exception of that embodied in the second and third Resolutions.
§ MR. DISRAELI
Sir, I shall refrain, on the present occasion, from entering into any discussion of the principle of church rates; but I think it due to my right hon. Friend the Member for North Wiltshire (Mr. S. Estcourt), however I may differ from him on points of detail, to bear my testimony to the highly honourable and straightforward manner in which he has acted throughout this controversy. It is very advantageous that a Gentleman of his intelligence and position in the House should take such opportunities as the present, on a question which has so long been the subject public controversy, to urge us to express an opinion upon the means by which ultimately some satisfactory arrangement may be made. Hitherto, the only conclusion at which I have arrived is the conviction that when the question of church rates was first brought forward for public discussion much too narrow and limited a view was taken of it by Parliament. The truth is, we have discovered, after the discussion of the question for a quarter of a century, what important interests and what great principles are involved in it. The principle of a National Church, the practice of local government, the privileges of the great body of the population, and, above all, that principle of the pre- 1012 dominance of the majority, on which the whole of our social system in this country depends, were all really involved in what was brought before us at first merely as a sectarian grievance and a parish quarrel. It is the greatness of those principles, and it is the importance of these interests, that have so developed themselves in our public and Parliamentary discussions as really to have produced the difficulties which have prevented any settlement of the limited question first brought under discussion. When I remember this, I feel that it is not possible, in a rapid and easy manner, to arrive at any conclusion on a question that involves considerations of such immense importance. I would not follow the example of my hon. Friend tonight and say that this is a question on which the existing Government of this country ought to form an opinion, and stake their existence in case their solution is not adopted. Still, I will say that there is no question more worthy of the consideration of a Government, and that more requires the authority and responsibility of a Government for its solution; and, except by a Government, I am convinced that no solution of this great difficulty can ever be arrived at. Sir, I do not myself despair that the time will arrive when, with a due regard to all the great principles involved, some solution satisfactory to the country may be accomplished; yet I am satisfied it never can be accomplished except with a due regard to the ancient institutions of this country, and to the habits, customs, and privileges of the people of England.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that as reference to the Bill which he had brought in on this subject had been made by the hon. Member for Leicester (Mr. Heygate), who seemed to think that the proposal he should have to make would interfere with the rights of the vestries in providing for the maintenance of their parish churches, he begged to assure the hon. Member, that if he would examine the Bill which stood in his.(Mr. Newdegate's) name, he would find that it was framed with caution, and that it provided effectual machinery for preserving the rights of the parishioners in vestry assembled to control the arrangements of their own churches. He had been highly gratified with the course of this debate; for although he could not agree with the proposal of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt), on account of several of the objections that had 1013 been raised, yet he was glad that the right hon. Gentleman had treated the question not as one pertaining to any particular Government, but as one that ought to be decided by the House itself, and in a sense favourable to the principle of the measure which he (Mr. Newdegate) had introduced. With reference to the transfer of this charge from the occupiers to the owners, he begged to remind the House that that was supported by the authority of the Poor Law Commissioners of 1843, by the authority of the late Sir Robert Peel and the late Sir James Graham. He would never consent, seeing that church rates were a charge really upon the land, to alienate the right of the parishioners to that portion of the produce of the land. The proposal of the hon. Member for Leicester, if adopted, would hand over the whole control of a parish in some cases to the landlord, being one person who might not be a member of the Church of England. The hon. Member was perhaps aware of one case in which a Roman Catholic landlord, owning the parish, induced his tenants to vote against church rates. He (Mr. Newdegate) believed that there were other similar cases. He had therefore in his measure endeavoured to secure for the parish vestry the right not only to the means for maintaining, but the management of the church which belonged to them.
§ LORD ROBERT CECIL
said, that the Government seemed quite enamoured of the inaction they had observed on this question. They had been reproached with not settling it, and an hon. Member, who might be called a friendly monitor (Mr. Bright), had spoken of them as superior clerks on account of the conduct they had pursued. They not only abstained, however, from initiating the discussion of this question, but they arrested any discussion which others might initiate. His right hon. Friend the Member for North Wilts (Mr. S. Estcourt) had been taunted for having introduced a subject which he had been told was better fitted for the meetings of the Social Science Association. The object of such discussions was to enable the House to make up its mind. If ever there was a case in which an assembly found it difficult to make up its mind, it was on a subject on which a majority of seventy on one side had ended in a majority of one on the other. The House of Commons had been engaged for ten years in a search after a compromise, and 1014 he did not think the House could be better engaged than in discussing every compromise that could be suggested, until shame at the condition of this question would induce the House to come to some conclusion. The word "compromise" had, however, he thought, been very much ill-used in these debates. The ordinary meaning of a compromise was when each side gave up something; but the notion of a compromise entertained by some hon. Members was, that the friends of the Church should give up everything, and should cripple themselves in some manner pointed out by hon. Members opposite. A proposal had been made by one of the Members for Maidstone, not then in the House, which had been afterwards endorsed by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary—namely, that a rate should be levied, but that all power of enforcing it should be taken away. The right hon. Gentleman's idea was to keep up the form of a rate with all the vitality taken out of it. He would put a case to hon. Gentlemen opposite as landowners. Suppose the tenants objected to pay rent and got up an anti-rent agitation; that they gained a hearing, and that there was great difficulty in coming to a settlement. Suppose, then, that he came forward as a peacemaker, and offered a compromise of this kind—that the landlords should be allowed to fix their rent, to demand it, and to issue their summonses if it were not paid; but that if the tenants declined to pay any rent, it could not be enforced. Why, the landlords would accuse him, if he proposed such a compromise, of mocking their distress instead of offering them assistance. Yet that was what Ministers of the Crown told them was the only compromise that could be acceptable. A farmer might-be willing to pay to the support of his church, but he might not be willing to pay towards filling up the defalcations of his neighbour. He would reply, "I am willing to pay for the church, but not to save that stingy farmer." The whole scheme would thus fall like a pack of cards. The hon. Member for Newark (Mr. Hodgkinson) did not abandon the rate, but he fixed a limit, and imposed a condition which would destroy the influence of the Church, and empty the parish churches of their worshipers. He was surprised that so much enthusiasm for such a proposal should have been expressed by the right hon. Gentleman (Sir G. Grey), who seemed to imagine, that if 1015 they cut off a certain number of seats in a church, and made them free by Act of Parliament, they would have done all that could be required, and the poor would have ample opportunity of attending religious worship. If there were seats enough at present, the proposed system might be an admirable one, but there were not. Professing to be the Church of the nation, and wishing to be the Church of the nation, the Church was able to find room for only 29 per cent of the population, though 58 per cent belonged to her communion. That being the case, if they kept a certain number of seats for the rich parishioners exclusively, the poor would be in a far worse condition than they were at present. No one who had been in a parish church which was carved out into pews, and where the seats were kept for those who rented them, whether they were present or not, could have failed to observe how the poor man was treated, how he was shown to a seat in the gallery or in a corner where he could hear and see nothing, and where, perhaps, he might catch his death. And then hon. Members reproached Churchmen by saying that was not a proper state of things for the Church of the nation. He quite agreed with those who thought that the present state of many parish churches, where the poor were excluded, was a positive disgrace to a Church which called itself national. He longed for the day when that reproach should be wiped away. He believed that public opinion and the sympathy which was growing up between the rich and poor would before long sweep away that great abuse and reproach from the Church of England. But what he deprecated was the interference of that House in perpetuating by Act of Parliament what was only a pernicious custom, and thus deferring the day when the evil would be swept away by public opinion. He thought that his hon. Friend (Mr. Heygate) had offered what really deserved the name of a compromise—a give and take on both sides. If the Dissenters, and those who impugned the present state of the law, refused the proposition of his hon. Friend, they would lay themselves open to the charge that they did not desire the amendment of the law, but aimed at ulterior objects. A proposition was now offered which, if carried into effect, would banish absolutely this question from the parishes, would prevent it from ever disturbing the vestry again, or ever again setting the people against their parish priest. He trusted that they should have 1016 frequent discussions of this proposition, until the mind of the country was habituated to it—a proposition which had the advantage of having been approved by the House of Lords, and of having thus got over one of the main difficulties in the way of a solution, and a proposition which would remove in a satisfactory manner the disgrace of the question not being settled before.
said, that he did not think there was the least chance of coming to a settlement of the question if such settlement would take everything for one party, and would give nothing to the other side. The proposition before the House would place the opponents of the rate in a, worse, and the supporters of the rate in a better position than they were in at present, because it would enable the owners by their proxies to swamp occupiers when the subject came to be discussed in the vestry. He did not see any provision in the proposed Resolutions for allowing church rates to cease in those parishes where they had already ceased to be levied for a great number of years. The practical consequence, therefore, of the owners of property being allowed to vote would be that in a great many towns and parishes, where the rate had ceased to be collected, a new struggle would be commenced, and war would again ensue. He was anxious to see a settlement of this question. He did not desire to see it continued either as a party cry or as a grievance, but he asked whether any settlement such as now proposed was likely to prove satisfactory? He thought it utterly out of the question, because it would place the opponents of church rates in a worse position than they are in at present. Still, he did not see why one day or another some plan might not be originated in which both parties should agree. Such a plan must proceed from one of two quarters. It must come from the Nonconformists and be accepted by the party opposite, or else the Government in some future year might take up the question, and by their influence and with the desire of all parties for a settlement of the question, might carry a measure which, bringing about a compromise alike satisfactory to the members of the Church of England and to the Dissenters, would do good not only to the cause of the Church, but of religion generally.
said, that it was not his intention to divide the House upon his 1017 Amendment, and therefore be begged to withdraw it.
§ MR. DILLWYN
said, that when the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Lord R. Cecil) taunted the Ministerial side of the House with not being able to settle the question of church rates, he should have remembered that his own side of the House was not in a more happy position, for during that evening the House had had placed before them two or three Amendments, all emanating from Members sitting on the Opposition benches. The advocates of the unconditional abolition of church rates had long ago given up all idea of compromise, not from an unwillingness to look the question in the face, but from the conviction that no satisfactory proposal could be made short of entire abolition.
§ MR. SOTHERON ESTCOURT
said, that it was only because no plan had proceeded from the Nonconformists or from the Government that individual Members of Parliament now came forward with plans for the settlement of the question. Because the Government would take no steps in the matter, was there any reason why all others should wait with folded arms? The only reason could be that the country had not yet made up its mind, and in order that it might consider both sides of the question, and come to a judgment upon it, it was desirable that independent Members should occasionally call attention to it. It was a mistake to suppose that his proposal was that one class should vote and another should pay the tax. What he intended was that, except where owners and occupiers jointly paid, owners alone should determine whether the rate should be enforced. A distinction had been drawn by the Home Secretary between the first and second divisions of his Resolution; but he did not mean that there should be any distinction. He had divided the Resolution merely to render it more plain and intelligible. On the whole, he was gratified with the course of the debate, because, to a certain extent, a, modified assent had been given to his Resolution. He had no desire to carry his proposal by a bare majority, because a settlement of the question could never be accomplished by that means. It was not in the House so much as in the country that he desired to elicit an opinion, and hence his wish to agitate the question. At present the Government had, perhaps, a right to say that they could do nothing until the mind of the country was more decided on the subject; but he trusted that 1018 before long a satisfactory settlement would be arrived at by mutual concessions. He begged to withdraw his Resolution.
§ Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.