HC Deb 25 April 1865 vol 178 cc1013-24

MR. E. P. BOUVERIE moved for leave to introduce this Bill. He said that on a former occasion he had made a statement as to its objects, but as, unfortunately, there were an insufficient number of Members present he was not then successful in obtaining leave. It would, therefore, be unnecessary for him now to do more than make the Motion of which he had given notice.

Moved, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill to amend an Act passed in the twenty-third and twenty-fourth years of the reign of Her present Majesty, intituled 'An Act to make better provision for the Union of contiguous Benefices in Cities, Towns, and Boroughs.'"


said, he had no wish to oppose the introduction of the Bill, but, as a friend of Archdeacon Hale, and on his authority, he wished to state that what was said of him on a previous occasiou—that he was obstinately opposed to the clearly expressed wish of the Legislature as to these benefices—was an entire mistake. The facts were these. A scheme had been submitted to and approved by the Lean and Chapter of St. Paul's for the taking down of St. Benet's Church, and the sale of its site by tender. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners, when the scheme came before them, altered it so that the sale was to be effected by public auction. Archdeacon Hale would doubtless have preferred that it should not have been taken down at all; but, at any rate, he did not consider that the sale of a church by public auction was a becoming thing, and he objected to that part of the scheme, but he had no intention whatever of setting himself against the declared will of the Legislature, and of the other bodies whose consent had been gained. Instead of altering the scheme and removing this objection, the right hon. Gentleman thereupon introduced a Bill for dispensing entirely with Archdeacon Hale's consent, thus not only placing the Archdeacon in an unfair position, but doing away entirely with one of the securities provided by the original Act. Before leave was given to introduce the Bill he should like to hear from the right hon. Gentleman whether it contained any provision for the sale of the church by public auction, and also whether it contained a provision for dispensing with Archdeacon Hale's consent.


said, he had no doubt that this Bill was introduced with the best intentions towards the Church, but he did not look with much favour on a piecemeal legislation such as this to provide for the scruples of one individual. If the right hon. Gentleman wished to amend the scheme of 1860 he ought to bring forward a general amending Bill. The Act of 1860 put many persons in a very uncomfortable position. For instance, the consent of the rectors of these churches was to be asked for the sale of their graveyards, but the rectors naturally objected to consent to the sale of the graves of people over whom they had been appointed guardians, and to give an opportunity of erecting a public-house on the site of those graves. When the original Act was passed, it was generally recognized that it was not likely to be very effective, considering how many consents were required, and if any interference of the Legislature were needed the right hon. Gentleman should have introduced a general amending Bill. It was throwing too much responsibility on the clergy in many cases to ask their consent, and if public policy required the sale of a church it ought to be done by a compulsory enactment decided on by Parliament not by a permissive one.


said, he had to complain that the right hon. Gentleman had not explained what the provisions of the Bill were. The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie) could have but little confidence in his Bill when he sought to introduce it almost by taking the House by surprise, and without giving any information at all respecting it. He supposed, however, that it might be taken for granted that it was directed against a particular ecclesiastical dignitary. When the original Bill was passed numerous safeguards were provided; but when, for the first time, the conscientious scruples of one man came into play, a Bill was introduced pro hâc vice to do away with him altogether. Certainly, they ought to have some explanation of the character of the measure.


said, he thought that when a Bill was brought forward which would act as a Bill of Pains and Penalties to a dignitary of the Church its unusual character alone required something more than a cursory statement like that of the right hon. Gentleman on the other evening to induce the House to permit its introduction. Since then there had been placed on the table of the House the correspondence on the subject with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners and others concerned in the matters at issue, and those documents were an entire and complete justification of the course which he (Mr. Hubbard) had taken on a former occasion. One of the points for which the House had expressly provided had arisen. The House determined that as the Archdeacon was the per- son specially authorized and empowered by his office to protect the fabrics of the Church, his consent should be requisite upon the proposed removal of any of them, as well as that of the other authorities. The correspondence on the table showed that it had been arranged by the Bishops' Commissioners that on the union of the parishes mentioned in this Bill the church of St. Benet, Gracechurch Street, should be sold by tender; but the scheme was afterwards altered by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, so as to sell the materials by public auction. It was to this that Archdeacon Hale took objection, and in doing so did the very duty put on him by the Act of Parliament. It was certainly a queer thing that because a man did the duty for which he was expressly inserted in an Act of Parliament, another Act of Parliament should be brought in to scratch him out of the first Act. In making these remarks he wished it to be distinctly understood that he was not an opponent of the Act for the Union of Benefices. It was an Act which he believed would be found conducive to many purposes of utility, piety, and public benefit. If the present Bill were now a genuine proposition to amend that Act, he should be willing to support it; but if, as he could not help inferring from what had passed, it was one of pains and penalties against the Venerable Archdeacon of London—a man of high character and universally respected—he should oppose the Motion. To give the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie) an opportunity of giving more explanation on these points, he would move the adjournment of the debate.


said, he believed that the safeguards provided by the Act were necessary, and ought to be preserved, except some very good reason could be given for doing away with them. When he was Lord Mayor it came to his knowledge that the beautiful church which stood at the end of Lombard Street and King William Street was about to be taken down under the Act, because, as it was alleged, it stood in the way of a street improvement. An arrangement had been made with the officers of the church, and a large sum was to be paid in order that the building might be sold. That church was well filled every Sunday, and he believed there had been no intention to pull it down. The excuse made was that it was habitually empty, and the whole thing was cut and dried. It was to have been put up to auction in order that it might be converted into a post office. He, however, made it his business to call upon the parishioners, who availed themselves of the power given them under the Act of Parliament, and they gave their unanimous vote against the desecration of their church, he thought the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie) ought to give some further explanation before he asked them to read this Bill a first time.


said, he had said nothing because he had already made a statement on the subject. He had no objection to give hon. Gentlemen opposite any information on the subject of this Bill, though they seemed to be already in possession of what they asked for. Under the Act certain consents were necessary before a church could be sold. It was requisite to have the consent of the parishioners, and that had been unanimously given in this case. The consent of the patrons was required, who, in this case, were the Deans and Chapters of Canterbury and St. Paul's, and that also had been given, as had likewise been the consent of the Bishop of London, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and that of the Secretary of State. He thought that all those safeguards very amply secured the interests of the Church and of the public. But in addition to the consents which he had just enumerated, and which had been re-acquired in the Bill as it came from the Lords, the consent of I the Archdeacon was foisted into the Bill by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Hubbard) during its passage through that House. The hon. Member said he was not opposed to the Union of Benefices Bill, He had thrown every obstacle in its way. After he (Mr. Bouverie) had undergone severe labour during the whole of two Wednesdays in his endeavour to get that Bill through, the hon. Member (Mr. Hubbard) proposed that the consent of the Archdeacon should be required. Thinking it likely that the reverend gentleman would take the same view as his Bishop, the Archbishop, the Capitular Bodies, and the Secretary of State, he did not deem it worth while to divide the House on the proposal, and not wishing to fight every point to the death, in an unguarded moment he had agreed to introduce the Archdeacon. Unfortunately, the hon. Member for Buckingham was more knowing than he bad been. He wanted to put a spoke in the wheel and stop the whole proceeding, and had succeeded in doing so. He hoped he was not doing an injustice to the hon. Member when he said he believed that to have been his object. In the two parishes with which it was proposed to deal by the scheme now before the House there were 805 souls, and one of the churches alone was capable of containing 800 people. The parishioners consented to the amalgamation, the main object of which was to raise a large sum of money, it was said £40,000, which could be realized by the sale of the site of a church not required for the purposes of public worship in the City. It was proposed to apply part of the money so raised to the building of a church in a populous place in the outskirts of London, where a church was much needed, and the people were in a state of spiritual destitution, and also to the erection of a residence for the clergyman in the united parishes. Removing a church was no great novelty now-a-days—the Bank of England and St. Katharine's Dock had each swallowed up the sites of old churches; but this was not to be taken for a bank or a dock, but to erect another church in a part of London where the people were in a state of spiritual destitution. That was the scheme, and all the parties interested in it, the parish, the patrons, the Bishop, the Archbishop, the Home Secretary, had all consented, and then the Archdeacon stepped in and stopped everything, because he did not approve of the sale being by public auction. The hon. Member for Buckingham bad told the House that the Archdeacon objected to the church being sold by auction. He had himself no particular fancy for the sale by auction, but in such matters they must be guided by the circumstances of each case. H the hon. Member for Dundalk had been told that the Archdeacon only objected to the sale of the church by auction, he had been misinformed. The Archdeacon had had an interview with his Colleagues of the Estate Committee of the Ecclesiastical Commission and himself, and they had asked him this very question; the rev. gentleman had then stated distinctly that he objected to the principle of the Act, and declined to give his sanction to the scheme, even if it were agreed not to sell the church in that manner. Thus it was quite evident that the Archdeacon had other reasons than the one suggested by the hon. Gentleman for his opposition to the measure, and was prepared to stop all Union of Benefices under the Act. Was such a scheme, which would prove most bene- ficial to the parish, to the City of London, to the Church generally, and to the spiritual wants of those outside the City, to be stopped because the Archdeacon of London did not choose to approve it? Having had charge of the original Bill in that House, and knowing the opinion of its author in another House, he had no hesitation in asking the House to pass the proposed Bill, which would have the effect of allowing a very useful project to be carried out. The hon. Member for Buckingham talked of the Bill as one of pains and penalties against the Archdeacon; but he (Mr. Bouverie), in introducing it, was not proposing to drag the rev. gentleman to the stake and burn him, but merely to relieve him from a responsibility he had found inconvenient. Three years ago Parliament, without the consent of the Archdeacon, directed that his sanction should be obtained before the sale of a church could be proceeded with, and it was quite competent for the Legislature, upon further reflection, to say that in future his approbation should not be necessary in matters of the kind. Under these circumstances he trusted the House would support a measure so beneficial to the City of London and to the Church generally.


said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie) must have misunderstood the Archdeacon on one point; for about a month ago, in a conversation which took place in the lobby of the House, the Archdeacon had informed him that, although the Union of Benefices Act was not a measure he should have originated, still he did not object to assist in carrying out its objects, and he would have given his sanction to the sale of the church in question provided it were not disposed of by public auction. The real question, therefore, before the Hou3e was not whether or not the sale of the church was to be stopped, but whether the name of the Archdeacon was to be expunged by the Bill merely because he differed from the other trustees and from the hon. Gentleman as to the mode in which the sale was to be effected. Personally he (the hon. Member) thought a great boon would be conferred upon the City of London by the union of the benefices, but he thought it would be preferable if the House were to take the reasonable scruples of the Archdeacon into consideration, and direct that the sale of the church should not take place by public auction, and that at least they should not take the strong measure of striking out his name.


said, the Archdeacon, in his interview with the promoters of the scheme, had expressed his entire dissent from the scheme, and more particularly from the proposal for the sale by auction. After the consent of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London had been given to the scheme, if an insurmountable obstacle were raised which would prevent its being carried into effect it was but reasonable that Parliament should remove the impediment.


said, they were being plunged step by step into greater difficulties. The right hon. Member who had carried the original Bill through the House had made a most extraordinary observation when he stated that one of the provisions of the Bill had been foisted into it. After that Bill had received the approval of both Houses, and had become an Act of Parliament, were they now to deal with it in accordance with the preconceived notions of the person who brought it in? Neither the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Bouverie) nor the hon. Member who last spoke (Mr. Kinnaird) had ventured to assert that any offer had been made to the Archdeacon to carry out the scheme without the sale by auction. That would have been a very simple thing to do, and he could not understand why, when a person objected to what he considered an indecent mode of carrying out a scheme for the public good gentlemen, honestly wishing to carry it out, should not have made an offer to remove the cause of objection. Instead of adopting that most reasonable and easy course the right hon. Gentlemen had brought in the present measure for the purpose of snuffing out the Archdeacon, who had chosen to refuse his sanction to an indecent mode of carrying out a good scheme. That was not a prudent mode of effecting an object of this kind on which there was sure to be great difference of opinion. Were the present Bill carried the next thing would be that an endeavour would be made to snuff out in like manner the Archbishop of Canterbury, and then the Bishop of London, and so, one after another, by disqualifying Bills, all those whose sanction was now required, until at length somebody or other would pull the churches down and put the money received from their sale into his own pocket. The right hon. Gentleman, instead of giving them any information re- lative to the Bill, had merely availed himself of the opportunity to indulge in a violent tirade against the Archdeacon and to state that some thousands of pounds would be applicable to do good elsewhere. Before bringing in a Bill upon which they had very imperfect information, it was but reasonable that the Commissioners, who had the carrying out of these matters, should put it to the Archdeacon whether he would consent to the scheme in question if the indecent mode of carrying it out were given up.


said, the original Act originated with a large number of the most influential and intelligent of the clergy of the metropolis, who thought it a scandal that there should be such a large number of richly endowed churches without congregations in the City, and he had stated at a meeting to take into consideration the spiritual destitution of the City that they had no case on which to go to the community while such a scandal existed in the metropolis. The Bishop of London, upon whom the matter was pressed by the clergy, then laid the question before the other House. It was a great misfortune that the right hon. Member (Mr. Bouverie), in his eagerness to pass the measure, should have permitted the introduction of a provision by which a subordinate functionary received power to interpose in such a manner that his veto might supersede the wish not only of his own bishop, but that of the Archbishop of Canterbury. If the Archdeacon entertained the opinion that a church once consecrated should never be devoted to any other purpose—a view which was not so generally recognized by the Church of England as by the church to which the hon. Member for Dundalk belonged—the House ought obviously to relieve him of a duty which did not harmonize with his opinions, and which he found it unpleasant to perform. It was remarkable that whenever an attempt had been made to get rid of a church in London for purposes of commerce or private profit there had never been any difficulty in the way. If a railway wanted the ground, churches, graves, and bones were got rid of with the greatest facility. This was the only occasion on which an attempt had been made to remove a church for a religious purpose, and it seemed to provoke a vast amount of animosity and opposition. In the present case, nobody was to make any money out of the removal, but spiritual wants alone were to be provided for and every possible obstacle was raised to the proposed change. There was in law a doctrine applied to property that cujus est solum ejus est usque ad cœlum, and he would not say how far they acted upon that doctrine who placed obstacles in the way of such sales as that to which the Bill related, and who, while priding themselves on being supporters of the Church of England, objected to a change which was in accordance with the spiritual wants of the community. It was, indeed, contended on their behalf that there would be something indelicate and indecent in selling a piece of land which was ecclesiastical property for the highest price that could be got; but, for his own part, he could not perceive the force of that objection. Seeing that the proceeds of the sale were to be applied to meeting the spiritual necessities of the poor, he thought it was desirable that they should be as large as possible, and the best way to secure that result in the City of London was to put the land up to auction. What, he should like to know, was the spiritual distinction between selling a piece of ground by auction and by private tender? He did not know which Article of the Church of England enunciated it. Looking at the matter either in a temporal or in a spiritual point of view, it appeared to him, he must confess, that what was to be sought after was the highest bidder, and he trusted refined scruples, which had really no foundation in reason, would not be allowed to interfere with the practical aim of his right hon. Friend by whom the Bill was promoted. Those hon. Members who stood so zealously by the Established Church ought, he thought, to have some faith in a Bishop and Archbishop of that Church, and ought not to discredit those high functionaries by setting up a subordinate to protest against their proceedings when they had simply sanctioned that which was reasonable and proper.


said, that the Archdeacon in his letter to the Bishop of London used the following words:—"I have no objection to the taking down of the church, and disposing of the site; but there are different ways of doing the same thing." The Archdeacon did not there state that he objected to the principle of the act; on the contrary, he was ready to assent to the sale; but he disapproved of the proposal that it should take place by means of a public auction. The scheme, as prepared by the Bishop of London, was, that upon the union taking place, the Church of St. Benet should be taken down and sold by tender, and that was the proposal, which was sanctioned by the Dean and Chapter of Canterbury and the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul's. When the matter came before the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, however, they took upon themselves to alter the proposal so made, and it was from them the proposal came that the church should be sold by public auction. It appeared to him; that, when the principles of the Bill had been agreed upon, the Archdeacon was specially charged with the responsibility of seeing that the manner of giving effect to them was in accordance with ecclesiastical rules and precedents. In his (Mr. Lygon's) opinion the Archdeacon had exercised a very wise discretion, and there was no reason why he should on that account be deprived of the power with which he was at present invested. So far, he might add, as ecclesiastical sanction went, it was clearly in favour of having the church sold by tender.


said, he could assure his hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Hubbard) that no Nonconformist body had any intention of obtaining for itself possession of the site in question. It was true that on a former occasion he had proposed that a clause should be introduced into the Bill then before the House to the effect that the Nonconformists might secure one of the sites in question for a church whenever the Church of England was not in a position to purchase it. Perfect horror seized the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Hubbard) when he made that proposal, and he believed that some fear existed in this case that the Nonconformists might be the purchasers. The Bishop of London had written asking him as a favour to withdraw the clause he had referred to, inasmuch as its insertion would peril the passing of the measure. And having mentioned the name of that right rev. Prelate he could not abstain from saying that he felt the most unbounded admiration of his career as a bishop, for, since he first came to fill the position which he now occupied with so much advantage to the Church, no man had done more to provide for the spiritual necessities of the metropolis. He entirely sympathized with the Bishop of London in the present case. The best way to obtain the largest sum for the same object was the question that evening before the House; and he, for one, was quite surprised to hear the objections made to the proposed scheme by the hon. and learned Member for Dundalk (Sir George Bowyer), seeing how frequently the sites of Roman Catholic churches abroad were turned to other than their original uses—churches which had been used for centuries as places of worship, and which contained magnificent paintings, having even been used as stables. For his own part, he hoped his right hon. Friend would persevere with the Bill. With regard to the Nonconformist body, he desired to say that they were not jealous of the progress which the Church of England might make, provided that that progress was made in the right way—namely, by simply relying on the Christian Willinghood of their own people, and using the property of the Church to the best advantage.

Motion agreed to.

Bill to amend an Act passed in the twenty-third and twenty-fourth years of the reign of Her present Majesty, intituled "An Act to make better provision for the Union of contiguous Benefices in Cities, Towns, and Boroughs," ordered to be brought in by Mr. EDWARD PLEYDELL BOUVERIE and Mr. GOSCHEN.