§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said: I am anxious, Sir, to express my thanks to the Government and to the House, for having permitted me, after having withdrawn this Bill in its first form, to re-introduce it at the close of the last Session, in order that it might be considered during the recess. I availed myself of the opportunity thus afforded, and complied with what I believe to have been the intention of the House. About 2,600 copies of the Bill were circulated during the recess. A copy was placed in the hands of each Board of Guardians, and of each Rural Dean; a copy was sent to each Cathedral Chapter, and copies were 1248 sent to many of the clergy in the towns in which the pressure of the anti-church rate agitation has been severely felt; I have the satisfaction of knowing, that although this Bill will be opposed by persons of extreme opinions—on one side, by those who will be content with nothing short of the unconditional abolition of church rates—actuated by whatever motives, whether from a dislike to the Establishment, or from a desire to get rid of the vestries, and thus to get the control of the arrangements of the church, and the church itself into their own hands—although I know this Bill will be opposed on the other side by some very high Churchmen, who will he content with no settlement of the question that will not restore the state of things which existed two hundred years ago, or with only such changes in law as would by adaptation to the present times render the law no less stringent than it was at that period—yet I find that this measure meets the views of a very large number of sound Churchmen, and of the religious as distinguished from the political Dissenters. It would be idle to hope for the concurrence of persons holding the extreme opinions to which I have referred, for no measure can content both sides when their opinions and wishes are antagonistic. But of this I am confident, that any hon. Members who think fit to vote for the further consideration of this measure will find themselves giving expression to the wishes of the great body of occupiers, and of all those who entertain moderate opinions upon church questions. My communications have naturally been very extensive, and what I have said conveys, to the best of my belief, a fair version of the result of these communications.
I am anxious, Sir, that the House should for a few moments consider the present position of the church rate question. Last Session, after the Bill proposed by the hon. Baronet the Member for Tavistock (Sir John Trelawny) had been rejected by a majority of one, in a House of 559 Members, the House came to a Resolution, by a majority of seventeen, to the effect that it would be unjust and inexpedient that church rates should be abolished until some substitute for them had been supplied. Again, this Session, the Bill introduced by the hon. Baronet, at the instance of the extreme anti-church rate agitators, was, in a House of 560 Members, rejected by a majority of ten votes. It therefore appears, that so far as the opinion of this House has been indicated by its action, the House has 1249 practically decided that it will consider some substitute for church rates—some change of the law, which shall provide for the maintenance of the fabrics and of the services of the church, but that the means for obtaining that provision shall be adapted to the altered circumstances of the country, now that one-third or one-fourth of the population are not members of the Established Church. I do not pretend to ignore that fact, and it is with direct reference to that fact that the Bill which I ask the House to consider has been drawn. But it has been drawn with this further view — that it is not the intention of the Legislature—that it is not the intention of this House to disturb the connection of the Established Church with the Constitution of this country, but that it is the intention of Parliament to preserve the Church in her parochial organization as the means by which the poor shall always have, without payment, means of divine worship and the doctrines of true religion taught them without cost. I observed last week, in the leading organ of the press, The Times, an article to this effect:—That unless this Bill, which is there termed "Mr. Newdegate's Specific," be adopted, the church rate question, with all the bitter division of opinion and of feeling which it entails, among those who ought to be united on the main questions of religion, will continue long to be agitated, and that thus this strife will be prolonged, with all its evil consequences, for many years to come. I believe that The Times, in deprecating this result, has truly represented that sound but quiet mass of opinion and of feeling, which, although not always apparent on the surface, yet when the time comes, never fails to make its weight felt. I am anxious to show to the House that this Bill is no crotchet of my own, but that its principal objects have been contemplated by statesmen for whom the House has always entertained the respect due to their high talents and to their great prescience.
In 1837 the late Sir Robert Peel clearly indicated the kind of measure which, in his opinion, ought to be introduced for the settlement of this question—a settlement of which he urged in the strongest terms. The Government of that day had introduced a Bill to abolish church rates, but proposed to compensate that abolition, if compensation it could be called, by taking £250,000 a year from the revenues of the Church — in other words, to alienate that sum from the other objects of the Church, and apply 1250 it to the purposes of church rate. Sir Robert Peel condemned the proposal, on the ground that the property of the Church was not only inadequate to her then existing requirements, but utterly inadequate to provide for the spiritual necessities of the increasing population. He showed not only that the Church was unable to fulfil her function, but that the Dissenting bodies had failed to provide for the spiritual necessities of the poor. During the last Session, I served on the Committee which was appointed to consider the operations of the Ecclesiastical Commission; and although, as that Committee has not yet reported, I have no right to anticipate the conclusion at which we may arrive, yet the evidence has been printed, and I may be allowed to say, that it clearly proves the inadequacy of the means of the Church at this moment for the spiritual instruction of the people. Sir Robert Peel, as I have already stated, resisted the proposal to alienate the revenues of the Church in order to apply them to the purposes of church rate. I say "alienate," since Parliament has decided, by the appointment of the Ecclesiastical Commission, and by sanctioning the acts of that Commission, that these funds ought to be applied to an increased provision for the clergy, and increased Church accommodation for the people. Sir Robert Peel said —If to meet these necessities a sum were taken from the Consolidated Fund, it would relieve the landowners of the country from the duty of supporting the Church. Whether there should be any new apportionment of the charge on land, making the owner and not the occupier contribute (a plan which he avowed would, in his opinion, 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 draw a distinction between the cases of the town parishes and the rural parishes, in the latter of which the House might be assured the people did not wish to see the Church degraded—whether it was possible to do these things he was not then prepared to say, but, at least, such a measure deserved the best consideration." [3 Hansard, xxxvii. 326–7.]If the House will consider the indications thus given by Sir Robert Peel, who was not then in office, of the kind of measure which he considered requisite to settle this question, they will find that he suggested, first, a new apportionment of the charge of church rates upon land, making the owner and not the occupier liable; secondly, that the measure should give relief to Dissenters without the imposition of any invidious test; and thirdly, that it should make a distinc- 1251 tion between the position of the Church in the towns and in the country parishes. And the House will, on examination of this Bill, find that it combines these three objects. If the House would turn to the Resolutions of the Committee of the House of Lords on Church Rates, they will find that the concluding Resolutions run in these terms—That the ratepayers in every new parish or district shall be ratable for the purposes of their own church, and for no other.That object is provided for in the Bill. The next Resolution is—That there shall be the same powers for the recovery of church rates as exist for the recovery of poor rates; and in case of objection to the validity of the rate, that an appeal shall lie to the General Quarter Sessions, and that the jurisdiction of the Ecclesiastical Court in such matters shall cease.The House will find that recommendation also embodied in the Bill. The last Resolution is—That the principle of assessing the owner instead of the occupier to the church rate is well deserving the serious consideration of Parliament in any future legislation on the subject.The accomplishment of this object is the basis of the present Bill. It is quite true that the Resolutions of the Committee of the House of Lords appear to contemplate the continuance of a church rate; while the Bill before the House proposes the establishment of a charge upon property instead of a rate. I do not see the possibility of otherwise carrying out the suggestion of Sir Robert Peel, that the Dissenters should be relieved from all personal liability without the imposition of any invidious test. The hon. Baronet the Member for Finsbury (Sir Morton Peto), whose opinions are of great value, has denounced any plan which would have the effect of what the late Sir James Graham called "ticketing" the Dissenters; and I concur in the opinion expressed by the hon. Baronet, that any provision which would form a list, in every parish, of persons as objectors to church rate or to the Church, would be a source of difference and division, and would afford an ever ready fulcrum for bitter agitation. Looking at these difficulties, I do not see how it would be possible to transfer the onus of church rates to the landowner, or rather to recognise the real incidence of the burden of church rates as a charge upon the land, so as to give relief to conscientious scruples, by affording freedom from personal liability, without declaring that a charge upon real 1252 property shall be substituted for church rate, and that all personal liability to church rate shall cease and determine. I almost think I shall be fighting a shadow; but I have formerly heard it contended that church rate is not a charge upon land or upon real property. While speaking upon this subject last Sessiou, I cited the opinion of the late Sir Robert Inglis, as expressed in the year 1834, that church rate is a charge upon the land. I cited also the opinion of the late Mr. Daniel Whittle Harvey, who stated in the same debate, that church rate is a charge upon land and real property; he mentioned the instance of his own house in George Street, Hanover Square, in respect of which he had just paid a church rate. I will now refer to the opinion of the Poor Law Commissioners, who state this fact in broad and distinct terms. In 1843 they reported—Many inconveniences and anomalies arise from the fact that the legal character of the poor rate, and of all the local rates, except the sewer rate, is not made accordant with its real and essential character. These rates are essentially taxes upon the rent of the landlord; not taxes upon the occupier's profits; no legal declarations, no limitations of legal remedies to the person and goods of the occupier, however much they may disguise the aspect of the tax, or make its burden operate unequally on rent, can make it fall permanently on anything but rent. If the same rates were all avowedly laid upon the landlord, but made leviable upon any goods found upon the rated property, the occupier being enabled to deduct his rate from his rent, the amount of net rent which would then be paid to the landlord would doubtless be the same as now; but there would be no disguise of the real incidence of the burden. This result would be not only valuable for the sake of the abstract fairness of giving protection to those whose interests are really involved, but would be equally desirable for the-sake of those classes, who, though not interested as taxpayers, are otherwise deeply interested in the proper administration of the laws; for perhaps the greatest abuses which ever prevailed in the administration of the Poor Laws arose from this fact, that the tax fell, and that it was found out by the occupiers that it did fall, upon the landlord, while the administration, expenditure, and appropriation of the tax was given exclusively to the occupiers, who did not really bear the burden. The attempt to give the tax the appearance of an occupier's tax involves besides many other practical inconveniences.A stronger opinion than that could scarcely be given. The Report goes on to say—Another inconvenience results from this. In order to catch the occupier, it is necessary to make the remedies very much more stringent than would be necessary if it were made clear to the occupier that what he paid in rate he would deduct in the rent. Committal of poor occupiers to gaol 1253 for non-payment of rates would certainly be unnecessary, if the rate were made in law what it is in reality, a landlord's tax, and an avowed instead of a disguised deduction from rent.No one will, I think, dispute the competence of the Poor Law Commissioners to give an opinion upon this subject; and if the House will be kind enough to consider the provisions of this Bill, they will find that in this matter of church rate it adopts precisely the view of the Poor Law Commissioners. In the course of the discussion which took place in 1849, on the subject of the abolition of church rates, the late Mr. Goulburn said—Those who inherited land inherited it subject to church rates; and those who bought it purchased it at a lower price than would have been paid if church rates bad not been leviable in respect of it, &c. They had therefore ample reason to reject this abstract Resolution [Sir J, Trelawny's for the Abolition of Church Rates], and to ask those who considered that they had a remedy for the evils which church rates had occasioned to bring in a new Bill, and show in what way the maintenance of the fabrics of the Church was to be provided for, and how justice was to be done to the public at large as against those who had property liable to the rate." [3 Hansard, ciii. 661–2.]Subsequently, during the same debate, Sir Robert Peel said—What was the Resolution in effect but a Resolution that the land should be relieved from this burden, &c? The hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir W. P. Wood) stated, that both by the common law and the statute law, the land had always been chargeable with a payment for the maintenance of the parish church. He said that there was a distinction between the tithes and the church rates in several respects, but admitted that a payment from the land for the maintenance of the fabric was sanctioned by the common law; was it fitting, then, that they should exempt the land from this charge by a Resolution hastily passed by the landowners themselves." [3 Hansard, ciii. 667–8.]Lord John Russell afterwards observed—The hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) has stated that it was a shame the church rates should be exacted from Dissenters. He (Lord J. Russell) did not so consider the matter. In the first place, there was no shame in levying church rates on Dissenters, who had bought lands because they had bought them subject to the charge, and it was considered in the price." [3 Hansard, ciii. 674.]Now, Sir, I think I need not add to these authorities in order to prove that church rate, like every other general rate, is a burden upon land. I am asking the House to carry out the objects indicated by Sir Robert Peel, and to act upon the views expressed in the Report of the Poor Law Commissioners in 1843—by declaring that the provision for the maintenance of the 1254 fabric and services of the Church in its average amount is a charge upon land, and shall be continued for the use and benefit of the parishioners of the several parishes of this country. I beg pardon of the House for having detained them so long, but I wish to be allowed to explain the general principle of this measure.
The first object of the Bill is, to remove all personal liability in respect of church rates. And here I am in perfect concurrence with the hon. Baronet the Member for Tavistock, and the Dissenters. I may perhaps state why I do not proceed by Resolution:—For three Sessions I have brought under the consideration of the House Resolutions with a view to the amendment of the Church Rate Abolition Bill; but the House has always told me that an abstract Resolution was useless, and that my particular Resolution was inadmissible, because the principle of the Bill was opposed to the provision of any substitute for church rates. Then, again, what happened last Session? When the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wiltshire submitted a Resolution to the House, the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary objected to it, remarking that the proposal of abstract Resolutions might be a very fit mode for raising discussions in the Social Science Society, but that this form of proceeding was really wasting the time of the House, because those who proposed changes in the law were bound to furnish the House with them in the practical form of a Bill, in which should be stated the scheme and details which they conceived to be likely to effect their object. And therefore, at the risk of appearing presumptuous, I determined to proceed by Bill, and not by Resolution. The next object in the principle of the Bill is, to acknowledge and confirm the right of the parishioners to that portion of the gross value of real property in each parish which, being beyond the rent paid to the landlord, has always been reserved for church rate. I need not dwell on the fact that this right has been prescriptive, even from Saxon times. The third object of the principle of the Bill is, to exempt all parishes in which no church rate has been levied for seven years from the charge on real property, reserved by the Bill elsewhere to the use of the parishioners. And the fourth object is, to give to two-thirds of the ratepayers of parishes, exempt as above, power to claim that the exemption shall cease, and thus to bring their parish within the charge. 1255 Now, Sir, here is a point that I know will be contested. Some hon. Members will deny that it is right to exempt parishes where church rate has not been levied for seven years from the same category of legal provisions which would apply to other parishes. The House will, however, observe that Sir Robert Peel indicated that in the settlement of this question there ought to be a distinction observed between the provision for large towns and country parishes. The Secretary of State for the Home Department, in the year 1859 I think, urged upon the House that in any measure for the settlement of this question, the fact that church rate had practically, for a series of years, been abolished in large towns, must he recognised. Sir, I propose to recognise that fact; but in the 36th clause of the Bill—and I beg to call the attention of the House to this clause—it is provided that if two-thirds of the ratepayers shall apply to the quarter sessions, the exemption of their parish shall cease, so that the charge which the Bill provides elsewhere shall be there rendered available to them for the purposes of church rate. The intention of the Bill is that it shall not be at the option of the quarter sessions whether the charge shall attach or not, but that it shall be the duty of the quarter sessions to ascertain whether the application is really and genuinely that of two-thirds of the ratepayers; and if they find that it is so, then to give effect to the claim of the ratepayers to that portion of real property within the parish which the Bill will have secured elsewhere to the inhabitants of other parishes. The Bill therefore distinctly recognises the right of the ratepayers to this property whenever they shall claim it, and recognises the establishment of the Church within the parishes, at first exempt, by retaining the power of the parishioners to charge the property within their parish for the maintenance of their church, whenever by their free and voluntary action they shall think fit to enforce their right. The Bill further provides for the eventual commutation of the charge thus substituted for church rate into an endowment for each parish, the proceeds of which shall be applicable to the purposes of church rate; and further that the charge substituted for church rate shall cease on the creation of such endowment. Now, Sir, I should be sorry to see any injustice done to the owners of real property in this country, and I do not think that any injustice is done to them by the pro- 1256 posal which I make. My proposal is this—not that their property shall be taxed ad libitum by the occupiers in vestry assembled, but that the average of the church rate which has prevailed throughout England and Wales for the last twenty or thirty years, namely—2d. in the pound, shall be taken as the amount to be levied on real property. This proposal cannot be thought to injure the landowners, he-cause if 2d. in the pound provides a larger sum than is required for the annual purposes of church rate within the parish, the surplus will accumulate in safe hands towards the formation of an endowment; upon the creation of which, the charge upon the property of the landowners will cease, and cease because an adequate provision has been made for the maintenance of the fabric of the Church and of her services. And if, during the interval, any landowner wishes to free his property from this charge—if he should find it more consistent with the feelings of his tenants, or for any other reason more convenient, that the charge should be paid directly by himself, or by his heirs and executors, the Bill provides that which does not now exist—a means for effecting, and a substantial basis for commutation, regulated by law—a basis for commutation which does not exist in the Bill of the hon. Member for East Surrey. The Bill provides the means of commutation, regulated by law, on a principle analogous to that adopted by Parliament in the commutation of tithes, making allowance, of course, for the difference between the nature of tithes and the nature of church rate; but recognising the circumstance common to both, that each is a charge to which real property is subject.
It may, perhaps, be said in the case of some parishes, "Twopence in the pound will not produce so much as they require annually for the purposes of church rate." ["Hear, hear!" from the Ministerial side of the House.] Yes, it is perfectly true that there has been a large expenditure in some parishes; but there have been abuses, for it appeared in the evidence given before the House of Lords' Committee, that items have been provided for out of church rates which ought never to have been provided for from that source; and I therefore think it expedient that the charge should be limited to 2d. in the pound, the average amount which has been levied throughout England and Wales for the last twenty-five years. But, it 1257 may again be said, "This 2d. in the pound will not provide for more than the regular expenses of the parish; occasions may arise when it will be desirable that a larger sum should be provided." Well, Sir, if a penny in the pound will suffice for the ordinary expenses, the surplus would be available for any extraordinary emergency. But if the House is prepared to consider the Bill in Committee, or will refer it to a Select Committee, there will be no difficulty in framing clauses by which the credit of the charge might be used to meet any extraordinary emergency. I have not introduced this provision, because I considered this a matter of mere machinery or detail, that might properly be dealt with in Committee on the Bill. It is for very different reasons that I have omitted from this Bill any provision to meet one important recommendation of the Lords' Committee—namely, that the exact items of expenditure, for which provision by means of a church rate, and therefore of the church charge, ought to be made, shall be specifically declared by the law. The omission of this matter from the Bill is not an act of carelessness on the part of those who framed it, for this Bill is not merely of my own concoction, it is the result of the deliberations of several persons most competent to give advice. I have not proposed to deal in the first instance with this part of the subject, for this reason—the Bill as far as it goes, and some persons seem to think it goes quite far enough, is framed so as to raise no question of doctrine—no question that may create irritation in matters affecting religious faith. Were the House to enter upon the consideration of the particular objects, upon which the proceeds of the charge to be substituted for church rates should be expended, we should perhaps find ourselves involved in the discussion of doctrinal technicalities, upon which persons holding different phases of religious opinion within the Church might differ, thus diverting the attention of the House from the primary objects of the Bill, and to a certain degree embarrassing our proceedings. But should the House think fit to sanction the main objects of the Bill, and to allow the consideration of it in Committee, I am (should I find such to be the general desire) prepared to introduce clauses limiting the purposes to which the produce of this charge shall be applied, in accordance with the evidence of Arch deacon Hale, who recommended that for the future the legal purposes of church 1258 rate should be defined to consist in provision for the maintenance of the fabric of the church, for the decent arrangement and keeping of the churchyard, and in provision for the comfortable and decent conduct of the services of the Church in the ordinary manner. I should be glad to introduce clauses limiting the application of the funds to be derived by the process indicated in this Bill to the purposes thus defined.
Before I conclude, let me call the attention of the House to the machinery by which it is proposed to carry out the objects contemplated by this Bill. I propose to render the whole process for levying the charge, local and civil, analagous to and combined with that for collecting the poor and county rates. That is in accordance with the recommendation of the Lords' Committee. I propose to create a depository in which the proceeds of the charge thus levied may be safely kept, and whence they may easily be drawn by the representatives of each parish as required for annual or occasional purposes; and to provide that any surplus of the charge remaining to the account of any parish in the above depository shall accumulate to the credit of such parish for the purpose of forming an endowment; and to render this depository ecclesiastical in the sense of the Church of England, which combines the clerical with the lay element, both regulated by legal knowledge.
Let me call the attention of the House to this characteristic of the Bill. I have been asked why do I select the governors of Queen Anne's Bounty to form the executive body for carrying out the operations indicated in this Bill. My answer is very plain and simple. The body appointed for this purpose ought not to be purely ecclesiastical. It ought to be ecclesiastical in the sense of the Church of England. It ought to be ecclesiastical in the same sense as the Ecclesiastical Commission, but with one very essential difference. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department, and a right hon. Member for the University of Cambridge, know too well that the representation of the laity in the Ecclesiastical Commission is far too small; this objection does not apply to the Board of Queen Anne's Bounty, which consists of the Bishops, of the Lord Lieutenants of counties, of the Mayors of cities and of towns, of the Lord Chancellor, of the At- 1259 torney General, of the Chief Judges, and of the Queen's Counsel. This combination affords a representation of the Church of England in its natural proportions as between the clerical and lay elements; and throughout the Bill this object is contemplated, for by the Bill it provides, that of the Executive Committee to be appointed by the governors of Queen Anne's Bounty, one-third must always be laymen; and further, that no appeal shall be decided by them, except in the presence and with the concurrence of some of those high legal authorities who are members of the Board of Queen Anne's Bounty.
Thus, in the formation of the depository, the Bill would secure elements befitting the appropriation of funds for ecclesiastical purposes. The Board contains legal knowledge sufficient to regulate the elements employed in relation to each other, and in accordance with the rights and the laws which exist in relation to the Established Church. Thus, the money rendered available for the purposes of church rate would be appropriated by an agency ecclesiastical in the sense of, the Church of England.
A further object of the Bill is to revive and strengthen the parochial system of the Church of England, by conferring upon the incumbents and churchwardens of each parish corporate powers (analogous to those which they possess in the case of Church of England schools), for receiving the charge, and for holding benefactions or endowments for the purposes of church rate, subject to the legitimate control of the vestries. Now, Sir, at this point I wish to meet several other objections which have been made against this Bill. First:—It is said, "If you are going to convert the church rate into a charge upon land, you ought to have a landowners' vestry." I distinctly object to that suggestion. There are many parishes in which there is only one, or perhaps there are two landowners. There are parishes in which the landowner is not a member of the Church of England; in many parishes the landowners are not resident. And in all parishes, it is vital to the Constitution of this country, in which the State is united with the Church, that the existence, and functions, and activity of the vestries should be preserved as the living agency which represents the parochial system — the primary organization upon which the whole of our civil and political fabric rests; far, therefore, from proposing in this Bill to 1260 supersede the vestries, far from proposing to take out of the hands of the parishioners the control of their own churches, I would, by removing the difficulties incident to the assessment and levy of church rate, and by retaining to all vestries the control of their own churches, and of the expenditure thereon within the limits prescribed by law, strengthen that organization; by means of which the common sense, the neighbourly feeling, the charity, the benevolent and Christian action of the people are brought into perpetual exercise for the support of the State in all its ramifications.
I feel, Sir, that I have detained the House too long in endeavouring to explain the provisions of this Bill; but I may, perhaps, be permitted to add this one observation—I have said that the church rate is a charge upon property. It is so, remember, in its average amount, because it is the average amount on which the intending occupier calculates, when he makes his offer of rent for the property upon which he desires to enter. The church rate is not a charge upon property in respect of any occasional or unforeseen excess of levy above the average of ordinary years. If the church rate in a parish has been 2d. in the pound for a course of years, and in some year 5d. or 6d. in the pound is levied, the excess is a payment made personally by the occupiers. It is in order to get rid of the bitter feeling and the divisions which this personal incidence creates, that I propose to limit this charge to the average amount of church rate which has prevailed for upwards of twenty years, and to recognise that and that only as a charge upon real property. I know I may be accused of presumption in introducing this Bill. But it is not my crotchet. It is founded, as I have shown, on the opinions of the late Sir Robert Peel, and on the opinions of other most competent authorities, long since expressed. This Bill does not represent my own skill in legislation. It has been prepared by gentlemen of the highest legal attainments, whose names, if I were at liberty to mention them, would command the respect of this House. It may be asked, why do you urge this question perpetually, Session after Session upon the House? I do this for two reasons. I do not believe that any Government can settle this question, unless the opinion of the country is thoroughly prepared in the first instance. Illustrations of this necessity are abundant. The late Sir Robert Peel came into office, but he did not propose a Bill. We lament 1261 to this hour that he did not propose the measure of which, in his own cautious manner, he had indicated the outline. If we turn back to the Parliamentary history of the country, how many of us on this side of the House have reason to regret that Sir Robert Peel did not carry out the measures which he had indicated previous to his accession to office. I believe he reserved them; but he gave precedence to measures which so embarrassed those who wished to support him, that we were obliged to dissolve the connection which we so deeply valued. That opportunity was lost. Let the House remember what has since happened when any proposals have been made for the settlement of this question. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge brought in a Bill on the part of Lord Derby's Government. Certainly, the peculiar position of the right hon. Gentleman at that moment was, in many respects, unfortunate. I did not approve altogether of that Bill. But the real difficulty consisted in this — that the country was not prepared for it. Now, Sir, how is the country to become prepared, unless the independent Members of this House provide the people with the means of forming a correct judgment? Since such is the case, we shall not, I trust, when attempting to perform this duty, be looked upon as mere intruders. I should feel very grateful to the Government if they would take the matter out of my hands. And I would say to right hon. Gentlemen on these benches, it is only because you have not persevered in proposing a remedy for the existing evils that I prosecute this measure. It is at your disposal. It is ready to your hand; to alter, to arrange, to prepare it as you may think fit. But there is one thing that I will not consent to, and that is, that there shall be no prospect of a settlement.
In the course of the recent debate on the Church Rate Abolition Bill, the hon. Member for Leominster (Mr. Gathorne Hardy) said there was no reason for settling the question, no reason for relieving the clergy from this agitation. The clergy are, he said, in hot water on this subject, and they rather like it. Now, whether the clergy like it, or whether they do not, I do not think it wholesome for them to continue in this "hot water." This dictum of my hon. Friend reminded me of a communication I had that morning received from the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. That society is la- 1262 bouring to put down cock-fighting. I have no doubt, that when the officers of this society go into a cock-pit and find some of the cock-fighters handling their cocks, and say that cock-fighting is very cruel, the cock-fighters answer for the cocks, that they rather like it. It does, I confess, seem to me that this system of cock-fighting amongst the ministers of religion, this continuance of quarrelling over pounds, shillings, and pence, between the incumbent and his parishioners, is unwholesome in every sense; it tends to perpetuate sectarian feeling and animosity; it ought to cease. I never hope to see the day, in this world, when all Protestants will worship in exactly the same form; but he seems to me an enemy to true religion who exaggerates these differences into religious bitterness; and I know there are—I speak not of the hon. Member for Leominster—I know there are those who do make use of these differences of form, of these matters of pounds, shillings, and pence in the externals of religious worship, to break up that community, that catholicity of feeling, which ought to ever exist among Protestant Christians. These persons, who keep the parochial clergy in perpetual opposition to the dissenting ministers, produce exaggeration of feeling in the Dissenters, driving them into the excesses of Calvinism, and drive the Church of England back upon the exclusive bigotry and sensualism of the Church of Rome. There are none who profit by this state of strife, except those who are seeking to re-establish in this country the Church of Rome as a rival to the Church of England. By the establishment of a second Church avowedly seeking supremacy and domination, the strife that existed in former years would be revived and aggravated; these religious differences may thus again become fraught, as in former times, with civil war. Some dream of the establishment of what is called equality of religious establishment as regards the State; to attempt this would be to foster the elements of strife which now exist in the once United States. Sir, the carrying out of the doctrine of religious equality is not only impracticable, but it is dangerous; it must tend either to religious indifference or to religious discord. Unless the striving elements of religion, thus placed in competition, are controlled by the power of a secular despotism, they will touch civil life, and generate political differences which may develop results as fatal here as in the United States—as 1263 miserable as they have been in former ages in this very kingdom. My object, Sir, is this:—To extend the amplest measure of toleration to all who differ from the Church that ever has been proposed from the Conservative benches; and in this matter of church rates to re-establish the Church upon the foundation indicated by the late Sir Robert Peel as that best adapted to the altered circumstances of the country, now that one-fourth or one-third of our population differs from the discipline, if not from the doctrine, of the Established Church.
§ Motion made, and question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ SIR CHARLES DOUGLAS
said, that although he felt it to be his duty to move as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, he fully recognised the honesty of the motives and the moderation of tone with which the bon. Member for North Warwickshire had introduced his Bill. But he could not help regretting, after what took place last week, that a general discussion on the subject of church rates should have again engaged the attention of the House The hon. Gentleman seemed to anticipate opposition from two classes only—the Dissenters and the High Churchmen; but if the hon. Gentleman would look to the division list of last week, and if he could see the various communications which had been addressed to him from so many quarters, he would find that in every section of Churchmen there were opponents of church rates. For himself, he (Sir Charles Douglas) did not look upon this as a Dissenters' question. It was one in which the members of the Church of England were equally interested with the Dissenters. The hon. Gentleman had laid great stress upon the opinions expressed by Sir Robert Peel twenty years ago. He (Sir Charles Douglas), however, doubted greatly whether, considering the present state of public opinion on this subject, that great statesman would he now prepared to act upon opinions he then advocated. He should leave it to the Government to say whether they were prepared to support the second reading or to adopt the proposal of the hon. Member that his Bill should be referred to a Select Committee. He thought the machinery of the Bill was of so complicated a character that it could 1264 not be made very palatable to the country. He agreed with the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Hubbard), who stated last week that this question would not be settled until both sides agreed upon some arrangement, the basis of which was a recognition of the rights both of the Church and of Dissenters. At the same time, he gave the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Newdegate) great credit for the zeal, earnestness, and devotion he had displayed in endeavouring to frame a measure which should settle the question, and also for the conciliatory manner in which he had dealt with the question. He was afraid, however, that the machinery of the measure was so cumbrous and unmanageable that it would never lead to any settlement, and that it would be a waste of time to carry the Bill any further; and he therefore thought the best way would be to take the course of moving that the Bill be rejected at once.
said, he would second the Amendment. He would readily acknowledge the exertions of the hon. Member (Mr. Newdegate) to bring about a settlement of this question; but he feared that no measure brought forward by those whose names were on the back of this Bill (Mr. Newdegate and Lord R. Montagu), however fair the proposals might be, would ever meet with favour from the Dissenters. He (Lord Henley) thought that the proposition for the settlement of this vexed question must come from the Dissenters themselves, and he was not without hope that when they found that they had no chance of carrying a measure for the abolition of church rates pure and simple, they would be willing to bring forward a proposal which would meet with the approbation of hon. Gentlemen opposite, which might become the law of the land, and settle the question for many years to come. The real gist of the hon. Member's proposition was contained in the 6th, the 15th, and the 35th clauses. The 6th clause proposed to make the rate a permanent charge upon land, not to exceed twopence in the pound; the 15th made it a landlord's tax, payable like the land tax by the occupier, and to be deducted by him from the rent; and the 35th provided that church rates should not be leviable in parishes where they bad not been paid within seven years or in parishes in which they had been three times successively rejected by a majority of the parishioners. But many cases of hardship would occur notwithstanding this exemption. It was 1265 true that in parishes where the rate had been collected quietly and without opposition for a great many years some relief would be afforded by the Bill, because the amount levied was never to exceed twopence in the pound; but in many other parishes the Bill would put Dissenters, or those opposed to church rates, in a worse position than they now occupied. For example, in parishes where there had been constant disputes on this subject, and where church rates had been sometimes granted and sometimes refused during the last seven years, an opponent of church rates would be worse off under the Bill than he was before, because the rate was to be a fixed charge upon the land, and there would be no power in future of making any objections to the charge. Then as to making this a landlord's tax, what injustice it would be to tax the landlord when there would be no power for him to state his grievances; and although that might be cured by giving proxies in the vestry, yet in that case a greater evil would result, because he would be able, by the operation of his proxies, to swamp the votes of the parishioners in the vestry. Another objection to the measure was that the money would have to be handed about backwards and forwards. First, it would be received by the parish officers; they would pay it to the clerk of the peace; the clerk of the peace would send it to Queen Anne's Bounty office; and then, when it was actually wanted for the repair of the church, it would be doled out again to the parish officers. So numerous were the complications, and so intricate the machinery of the Bill, that he was convinced it would be far from popular. It would be all very well while there was an accumulated fund to the credit of individual parishes at the Queen Anne' Bounty office; but what were the parishes to do while the fund was accumulating, or in case of the twopence in the pound proposed by the hon. Gentleman not being sufficient for the repairs of the church? There would be no help but to resort to voluntary contribution. He hoped the House would not pass a Bill open to so many objections. At the same time, he professed himself most anxious to see this question settled upon a fair and honest basis, because he considered that it was the worst party cry that could be raised in that House, and one which kept alive an agitation and a contention very injurious to the cause of religion generally. He considered that the Bill had 1266 no chance of passing, and on that ground alone he felt bound to second the Amendment.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."
§ SIR HENRY STRACEY
said, that so far from the Bill having no chance of passing, he thought, that considering the perseverance of his hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire for so many years, his earnest desire to obtain a settlement of this vexed question, and the spirit of conciliation which he had manifested towards those who differed with him, there was every chance of the House giving a favourable hearing to his hon. Friend. Considering, too, the conciliating conduct of his hon. Friend, he thought the noble Lord was not very happy in his suggestion that the Dissenters would never accept any proposition that emanated from his hon. Friend. With regard to the noble Lord's statement that the Bill made the tax a permanent charge upon land, he would remind the noble Lord, that although his hon. Friend proposed that there should be a uniform charge of 2d. in the pound in lieu of church rates, that did not by any means imply that it would remain a fixed charge upon a parish for ever, and that there would be no means of getting rid of it. On the contrary, the 26th clause provided that in case of the charge becoming irksome to the landowner, he might be discharged from his liability by paying to Queen Anne's Bounty a sum of money equal to the capital value of the church charge, at the rate of twenty-seven years' purchase—his hon. Friend having found that that would be an adequate rate, instead of thirty years, as he had originally estimated. The great difficulty was, to ascertain exactly what were the difficulties under which Dissenters laboured: they enjoyed civil and religious liberty in an equal ratio with Churchmen; they could worship their God after their own fashion, and did so; and if they acquired or inherited land, they would always acquire and inherit it under the conditions which attached to and were inherent in it. Notwithstanding, then, that there was a prospect held out by this Bill of the ultimate relief of every one from the payment of church rates, the Dissenters still objected to the measure, and were disingenuous enough to abstain from stating their real grievances. If the hon. 1267 Gentlemen who represented them would; only come forward, and state in straight-forward terms what their grievances were, hon. Members on his side the House had so great a disposition to meet all just demands, that he believed any real grievance would be at once remedied. But if, like some patients, they chose to keep back the nature of their disease from the physician, how could they expect that physician to help them? He was sure that the measure introduced by his hon. Friend was one of a most christianlike character; and not only had his hon. Friend's demeanour been most christianlike throughout, the whole of this controversy, but he had exhibited admirable patience, great perseverance, and considerable boldness in grappling with this bone of contention.
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
said, he hardly liked to trouble the House after the lengthy speech which he had made last Wednesday, but he wished to explain the phrase from the speech which had been quoted by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, and which had been misapprehended by the right hon. Baronet the Secretary of State (Sir George Grey). The right hon. Baronet had quoted him as saying that the clergy preferred being continually in hot water to giving up the church rates. What he said was this:—The hon. Baronet who brought forward that Bill (Sir John Trelawny) had said that they were keeping the clergy in hot water by the church rate agitation, and that it would be better at once to abolish church rates altogether; to which his (Mr. Gathorne Hardy's) reply was, that they were prepared to keep in hot water rather than jump into the fire by abandoning church rates. In saying this, it was far from his wish to keep up strife. At the game time, he thought that that strife was: exaggerated in the great majority of cases and that in many cases there was no such strife at all. With regard to the present Bill, he thought that it had not the slightest chance of settling the question; and he was not, therefore, wishful to take any part in the discussion. He did not believe it would bring about an arrangement, or would tend to peace and reconciliation, and therefore he could not give it any support.
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
said, the hon. Member for North Warwickshire needed no apology for bringing forward this Bill, for no one could doubt that he was actuated by the most sincere and earnest 1268 desire to settle this question. What had been said by the noble Lord (Lord Henley) as to the objections that would be entertained by Dissenters to any Bill bearing on its back the name of the hon. Member was a statement which he thought that the noble Lord himself, on reflection, would desire to qualify. He (Sir George Grey) only wished that he could see in this Bill the elements of a satisfactory settlement of this question; but he was bound to say that it seemed to hold out no such prospect. One or two valuable provisions it certainly contained — as, for example, the power given to landowners to discharge their property from any church rate, and the exemption in the case of parishes where the rate had not for a certain time been levied, or had been for a certain time refused. This was a provision which must find its place in any Bill which recognised the continuance of church rates. But its value in this instance was lessened by the clause which enabled parishes, in certain cases, to revive church rates, because he thought it better that where the tax was put an end to at all it should be permanently extinguished. The principle of this measure was the transference of the charge from the occupier to the landowner. The hon. Member proposed a uniform charge of 2d. in the pound, and that, subject to the exemption of certain parishes, the charge should be levied upon property, the occupier being called upon in the first instance to pay the charge, but being entitled to deduct it from his rent, in the absence of any special agreement to the contrary between landlord and tenant. Now, he quite admitted that church rates were a charge upon real property, but too much had been made of the argument, that because they were such a charge, purchasers paid less for real property than if church rates did not exist. The fact was that the tax was so small in amount in many cases that it did not enter into consideration. Then, in his view, the machinery of the Bill was altogether too cumbrous to enable it to work satisfactorily. The hon. Gentleman proposed to bring in the Governors of Queen Anne's bounty in several capacities—to make them the trustees of all the funds that would be raised under the Bill, to make them to a certain extent administrators of the fund, and also a judicial tribunal—for they were to sit as a court of appeal to decide upon every minute article of expenditure to which objection 1269 might be made by landowners. He presumed that this was proposed, because, as the vestry would be constituted as before, landowners, unless they were also occupiers, would not be represented there, and were therefore considered entitled to an appeal. If they were dissatisfied with the decision of the court he had just mentioned, they might then carry the case before the Lords Justices, who might call in the aid of archdeacons and others. But all this sort of machinery was unsuited to the objects which were in view, He thought, therefore, that the hon. Gentleman would do well not to press this Bill upon the House. It had been circulated throughout the country, it had been read and considered by many persons, and so far the object of the hon. Gentleman had been accomplished. But the contrast between the appearance of the House to-day and its appearance last Wednesday showed that the Bill was not looked upon as a practical measure, and there seemed to be a general opinion that it should not be pressed upon the House, and that no benefit would result from referring it to a Select Committee. The noble Lord (Lord Henley) had said it was probable that when the Dissenters saw that they could not obtain the Bill of the hon. Baronet (Sir John Trelawny) they would either themselves propose or listen to any proposal for a settlement of this question short of total abolition. He should heartily join in facilitating the progress of any measure of that kind, and he hoped that there was now a bolter prospect of the adoption of some such measure than formerly existed. It was very desirable that this long-existing contention should cease, and to any reasonable proposal made with that view he trusted that the House would be disposed to give a ready assent.
§ SIR STAFFORD NORTHCOTE
rose to make an appeal to the hon. Member for North Warwickshire on behalf of a large number of Members who were anxious to support the Church from the difficulty in which they were placed in regard to this Bill. He trusted that his hon. Friend would not force them to a division. The Bill was one of great importance, intricacy, and difficulty. It contained forty-one clauses, all of which would have to be discussed in a House equally divided on the principles of the question, and under such circumstances it was utterly impossible that they could arrive at any settlement during the present Session. He thought, 1270 therefore, that there would be a great waste of time in discussing the measure, because it would re-open a controversy which would last during the whole of the Session, and which would, after all, lead to no practical result, although it might lead to many disagreeable incidents in the course of the discussion. At the same time, his hon. Friends would be very sorry to vote against the second reading. They all felt that his hon. Friend had done all that could be done to bring about a satisfactory settlement of this vexed question during the present Session. The hon. Member was quite agreed on principle with the rest of his party. They wished to maintain the principle of church rates, and to get rid of some of the evils which undoubtedly existed. They would therefore be very glad to have the assistance of an hon. Gentleman who had given such attention to the subject as his hon. Friend, and who approached the subject in the spirit he had shown. At the same time, his hon. Friend must see that there were difficulties in his proposal which he could hardly hope to surmount. But the principle proposed—that of changing the rate into a charge on land—would give rise to difficulties most difficult of solution. The exemption of certain parishes where there had been no rate for seven years was an acknowledgment that the principle of a charge upon property did not always meet the case, and, in fact, let in the principle of a rate, the characteristic of which was that the parish should settle whether or not a rate should be levied. Now, you might adopt either a rate or a charge upon the land, against both of which, and in favour of both of which, much might be said; but here it was proposed to combine the two principles. Again, it was proposed that parishes where the rate had ceased to be levied might revive the charge by a majority of two-thirds, but there was no corresponding provision enabling parishes where the tax was now levied to release themselves from its payment at a future time These were cases of great difficulty. He did not say that they were insuperable; but if they were to go into Committee, and have to deal with them, the House would arrive at no satisfactory solution, and would only provoke feelings of animosity and ill-will in the discussion of details. He hoped, therefore, that his hon. Friend would spare them the necessity of voting for a Bill which, though brought forward in an amicable and conciliatory spirit, and with a 1271 sincere desire to settle the question, they believed would lead to unprofitable, and probably irritating discussion; or, in the alternative, the necessity of opposing a Bill which many would be very sorry to vote against, and which contained valuable details that on a future occasion would no doubt be worthy of careful consideration.
§ MR. J. R. MILLS
said, the question had been asked what was the hardship of church rates upon Dissenters. The hardship was, that having to pay for the support of their own ministers, and their own chapels, they had also to pay for the carrying on of the service of the Church. The hon. Member was not right in assuming that the church rate was a charge on property; it had been decided by the highest authorities that it was a charge on persons, in respect of their land, and the remedy in the ecclesiastical courts was against the person and not against the property. The charge of 2d. in the pound would produce £700,000 a year.
said, that the real grievance of Dissenters was, that they had to pay for the Church as well as: for their own worship, and that was the plain reason for their wishing to get rid of church rates. Church rates were only available for repairing churches when they had fallen into decay; but they were wholly inoperative for preventing them for falling into that slate, and the tiling was not, whether the Church should be repaired, but whether the charge for repairing it was fairly and equitably assigned. No doubt it was true that the granting of an exemption on some was tantamount to the imposition of a tax upon others; but he thought that it had recently been very plainly shown that the time had not arrived when they ought to trust to unmixed voluntaryism for the support of the institutions of the country, he thought that it might, perhaps, be imprudent of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire to press his Motion to a division, after the appeals which had been made to him; but although he (Mr. Scourfield) recommended him not to go against the feeling of the House, he should certainly support him in the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, that in answer to the appeals which had been made to him, he must be allowed to state that he represented a very large portion of the community, which protested against the settlement of this question being any longer delayed. No man could take the steps he 1272 had taken to procure that settlement and exempt himself from the responsibility of dividing the House. He thought there was some confusion in the mind of his hon. Friend the Member for Stamford (Sir S. Northcote) as to the nature of his Bill. It was not a Bill to perpetuate church rates, but to substitute for church rates a distinct charge upon property; therefore, when his hon. Friend complained of the exemption of certain places from that charge, he forgot that the inhabitants were to have the power once for all, to reimpose that charge if they thought fit; and he confused the church rate and the right which the parishioners had to reclaim for themselves that portion of the gross value of the property of each parish which had hitherto been represented by church rates. He would willingly accede to the request not to trouble the House by a division; but seeing that it would delay the settlement of a question for which they had been waiting thirty years — which settlement had been four times attempted — he felt he could not, with justice to those whom he represented, refuse to give the Members of that House an opportunity of recording their opinions. At the same time, he had no objection, after it had been read a second time, to refer the measure to a Select Committee, in order that its details might be considered before they were submitted to the House.
§ Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 56; Noes 94: Majority 38.
§ Words added.
§ Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to.
§ Bill put of for six months.1273
|Bentinck, G. W. P.||Du Cane, C.|
|Bentinck, G. C.||Du Pre, C. G.|
|Beresford, rt. Hon. W.||Galway, Viscount|
|Beresford, D. W. P.||Gard, R. S.|
|Bernard, hon. Col.||Gore, J. R. O.|
|Booth, Sir R. G.||Grey de Wilton, Visct.|
|Brarnley-Moore, J.||Hamilton, Lord C.|
|Bridges, Sir B. W.||Hardy, J.|
|Bruce, Sir H. H.||Hay, Sir J. C. D.|
|Butler-Johnstone, H. A.||Hodgson, R.|
|Cartwright, Colonel||Hornby, W. H.|
|Cave, S.||Howes, E.|
|Cecil, Lord R.||Hunt, G. W.|
|Clive, Capt. H. G. W.||Jermyn, Earl|
|Cole, hon. H.||Jolliffe, H. H.|
|Cole, hon. J. L.||Jones, D.|
|Cubitt, W.||Kendall, N.|
|Dodson, J. G.||Knightley, R.|
|Langton, W. G.||Somes, J.|
|Leslie, C. P.||Spooner, R.|
|Long, W.||Sturt, H. G.|
|Lopes, Sir M.||Sturt, Lt.-Col. N.|
|Macaulay, K.||Trollope, rt. hon. Sir J.|
|Macdonogh, F.||Vansittart, W.|
|Miller, T. J.||Wood, W.|
|Pakenham, Colonel||Wynne, W. W. E.|
|Scott, Lord H.||TELLERS.|
|Scourfield, J. H.||Mr. Newdegate|
|Selwyn, C. J.||Sir H. Stracey|
|Adam, W. P.||King, hon. P. J. L.|
|Agnew, Sir A.||Kinglake, J. A.|
|Alcock, T.||Kingscote, Colonel|
|Atherton, Sir W.||Knatchbull-Hugessen, E.|
|Aytoun, R. S.|
|Baines, E.||Langton, W. H. G.|
|Barnes, T.||Lawson, W.|
|Baxter, W. E.||Leatham, E. A.|
|Bazley, T.||Lee, W.|
|Beach, W. W. B.||Lewis, H.|
|Berkeley, hon. C. P F.||Lindsay, W. S.|
|Black, A.||Mackie, J.|
|Blencowe, J. G.||Maguire, J, F.|
|Briscoe, J. I.||Martin, J.|
|Bruce, H. A.||Mills, J. R.|
|Butler, C. S.||Montagu, Lord R.|
|Caird, J.||Morris, D.|
|Clay, J.||Onslow, G.|
|Clifton, Sir R. J.||Padmore, R.|
|Coningham, W.||Paget, C.|
|Cox, W.||Pease, H.|
|Cubitt, G.||Pender, J.|
|Davey, R.||Pigott, Serjeant|
|Dawson, R. P.||Pilkington, J.|
|Dering, Sir E. C.||Potter, E.|
|Dillwyn, L. L.||Price, R. G.|
|Doulton, F.||Robartes, T. J. A.|
|Dunbar, Sir W.||Robertson, H.|
|Dunlop, A. M.||Seely, C.|
|Evans, T. W.||Smith, J. B.|
|Ewart, J. C.||Smith, J. A.|
|Ewing, H. E. Crum-||Smollett, P. B.|
|Foley, H. W.||Stuart, Colonel|
|Foljambe, F. J. S.||Taylor, P. A.|
|Forster, C.||Thornhill, W. P.|
|Gavin, Major||Trelawny, Sir J. S.|
|Goldsmid, Sir F. H.||Villiers, rt. hon. C. P.|
|Gower, G. W. G. L.||Vivian, H. H.|
|Greene, J.||Walter, J.|
|Greenwood, J.||Watkins, Colonel L.|
|Gregory, W. H.||Westhead, J. P. Brown-|
|Gregson, S.||Whalley, G. H.|
|Grenfell, H. R.||White, L.|
|Grey, rt. hon. Sir G.||Wickham, H. W.|
|Hanbury, R.||Williams, W.|
|Hanmer, Sir J.||Winnington, Sir T. E.|
|Hartopp, E. B.|
|Hibbert, J. T.||TELLERS.|
|Jackson, W.||Sir C. Douglas|
|Jervoise, Sir J. C.||Lord Henley|