HC Deb 01 August 1866 vol 184 cc1847-84

(Mr. Gladstone, Sir George Grey, Mr. Milner Gibson, Mr. Attorney General.)


Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Amendment proposed to Question [18th July], "That the Bill be now read a second time;" and which Amendment was,

To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "no scheme for the total, or partial, or absolute, or qualified abolition of Church Rates will be satisfactory to this House which does not contain some legal and certain provision for supplying any deficiency which may ensue from such scheme, in the funds applicable to the maintenance of the fabric of Church,"—(Mr.Neate,)

—instead thereof.

Question again proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

Debate resumed.


Before I enter upon the subject of the Bill itself, I will assure the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) that I meant no disrespect to him in moving the adjournment of the House on the last occasion when the measure was before it. It was then one o'clock in the morning, and the House was worn out by a twelve hours' sitting on other business. The Bill had been previously discussed at a Wednesday sitting, when there were only two hours to spare, and a very large portion of that time had been occupied by the speech of the late Attorney General and by hon. Members who had Amendments to propose, but who did not speak to the principle of the Bill. If this Bill had been simply a measure to abolish church rates, I should not have thought it necessary to re-open the discussion upon that principle; but the late Attorney General said that there were three principles in the Bill. The first was the same as that in the Bill of the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. Hardcastle), that was simple abolition; the second, to continue the existing machinery for voluntary purposes, under which the rates had hitherto been made; and the third principle was, that it should be imperative that those who declined the burdens should relinquish the power. I see very great reason to object to the second of these principles; and I cannot see the force of the reasoning that induced the hon. and learned Gentleman to change his mind. The late Attorney General said that church rates were a common law right, but that he could not justify the principle of that common law right because it was enforced through the Ecclesiastical Courts. If it were a common law right, and the only objection was to its being enforced by the Ecclesiastical Courts, the natural and logical course would have been to provide better machinery, and not to do away with that that was admitted to be just in the first instance. It was also said that by the adoption of this ancient machinery for the purposes of voluntary assessment Parliament would gain a great deal; and we were also told that the Church has plenty of means if she were left to a full, fair, and free exercise of her powers. My opinion is that so far from leaving the Church the full, fair, and free exercise of her powers, the continuance of this machinery would clog with difficulty, create jealousies, and inflict every possible evil which always occurred in compulsory taxation, and would import those evils into a voluntary system. I think I can show by figures that cannot be controverted that this machinery of taxation, so vaunted, will work in the agricultural districts with the greatest possible injustice. What was this voluntary system, and why was it imposed? Those who lived many hundred years ago were wiser in their generation than we are in many respects. I am bound to say most ecclesiastical persons are still fully alive to their own interests when it comes to a question of raising money. Our ancestors knew that the only mode of arriving at a satisfactory conclusion in regard to obtaining the funds required was to strike the property with the tax wherever it arose. We have a remarkable instance both of their wisdom and of the lack of wisdom in those who lived in later days, in what took place at the commencement of the present century. Both in respect to church rates and poor rates, those who went before us laid, in both those instances, a personal tax upon the occupier, the amount of which was to be ascertained by the value of the property in question, leaving the question as to how the burden was to be borne or proportioned to be settled by contract between the owner and occupier. When the occupier knew that the burden would fall upon him he took care to square the amount of rent to be paid by him accordingly. One of the greatest finance Ministers that ever lived, Mr. Pitt, endeavoured at the beginning of this century to raise the income tax without taxing it at the root where it arose. That attempt, however, turned out an utter and miserable failure, and Mr. Pitt was ultimately obliged to come upon the occupier for the tax, and leave him to deduct from the owner that amount to which the latter was liable. That machinery, so wisely constituted, you resort to in your Bill for the purpose of ascertaining what the occupier, as well as the owner, in each parish ought to pay in the shape of voluntary contribution towards the maintenance of the Church. This on the face of it is clearly wrong. When we come to look at the working of this machinery, in the shape of figures it will exhibit such a system of injustice, that it appears to me somewhat surprising it should have been proposed by a right hon. Gentleman possessing such great financial talents as the late Chancellor of the Exchequer. I will suppose that there are a few farms in a parish worth altogether £2,000 a year rental, and there is also a house in the same parish valued at £100 a year. I will suppose that two of those farms are occupied by tenants at a rental of £500 a year each, one at £400, one at £300, one at £200, and one at £100, making in the whole £2,000 a year. I will assume that there is a rate imposed of 6d. in the pound, so that the taxation of this parish, as far as the land is concerned, would be £50. Now, the ordinary income of persons occupying farms of that description is estimated on an average at about half the amount of the rent they paid. According to that estimate the aggregate incomes of the six farmers would be £1,000 a year derivable from their capital on the land and the fruits of their industry. We will take it that the man who rents the dwelling-house at £100 a year is possessed of an income of £1,000 a year, which I do not think is at all an exaggerated amount. Well, then, his house, being rated at £100 a year, would produce 50s. as the amount of the tax at 6d. in the pound. I take the gross estimated rentals in each case, and the farmers who are rated at £2,000 a year will pay among them £50 against 50s. The income being the same the farmers have to pay in proportion £50, while the gentleman spending an income of £1,000 a year had to pay only 50s. I think, if you follow the illustration I have given you down through the occupiers of farms generally, you will find how this machinery will cut. Now, I cannot conceive a more unjust state of things. But, perhaps, I may be told that there is a mode of correcting inequalities of this sort by the device of assessing the owner which you have introduced into the Bill. If, however, a man were disposed to button up his breeches pocket and to give nothing, I cannot conceive any mode more likely than another to make him more resolute in this determination than the proposed machinery of the Bill. There is many a man who would give you £5 if he were asked to contribute, but if you say that he ought to give this money, he will probably tell you that he will do no such thing. People like to do a thing when it is perfectly voluntary, but they do not like to be asked for a particular sum if they are told that that is the precise amount that they are expected to give. I am one of those who think that if the law on this subject is to be changed the amount to be given ought to be left to the full and free exercise of a man's discretion. And the voluntary principle ought not to be fettered in this way, which is only calculated to create disgust and dissatisfaction, and prevent people doing that which otherwise they would be almost certain to do. I ask what would be the feelings of the farmers in such a case, when they were called upon to pay £1, when the rich man had only to pay 1s.? Is it likely you would conciliate payment by such a step as you propose when a man would see upon the face of your Act the most miserable injustice? The machinery of church rates was well suited to its purpose so long as the payment of church rates was compulsory, but it would be wholly inefficient when voluntary was substituted for compulsory payment. Another objectionable feature of the Bill is the introduction into it of a kind of qualified excommunication. I cannot conceive a worse feature than this. There is often very considerable dissatisfaction if not soreness created amongst the members of a congregation upon the subject of seats in a church, and people are often found struggling with the utmost energy for the possession of a particular seat. When you consider how deep this feeling is when it is once engendered, I think you are introducing machinery in respect to this point into the Bill infinitely more mischievous and worthless for the purpose you design it than any other proposition you could well make. There is another matter which would never have occurred to me but for a remark made in the latter part of the speech of the late Attorney General on the introduction of the Bill. I do not understand why that remark was made, because I do not find in the report of what took place anything that called for it, and it strikes me that the old adage which says that when a man excuses himself lie accuses himself is somewhat applicable to the hon. and learned Gentleman. The remark I allude to is that in which the hon. and learned Gentleman said there was no ground whatever for supposing that there would be any danger under the Bill of the introduction of any strange ceremonies into the services of the Church.


said, that he had made the remark in question in reply to an apprehension expressed by the hon. Member for North Warwickshire that the Bill might lead to the introduction of strange ceremonies and vestments into the services of the Church.


I am obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman for this explanation. I was certainly surprised at the observation seeing nothing to warrant it in the Bill itself. I, however, see something in the Bill which strikes me as being peculiarly significant. It says in one of its clauses that the money shall be expended by the churchwardens with the concurrence of the rector. I am not learned in the law of this matter, and do not know whether or not the money must be spent with the consent of the incumbent, but, be that as it might, the provision is rather obscure, because it says "such treasurer" is to render an account to the inhabitants in vestry assembled, but does not inform them as to who that treasurer is. Thus they had a machinery by which, while the churchwardens were to expend the money with the consent of the minister, somebody else has to render an account. That I dare say is accidental.


explained, that it was a mere slip in the printing of the Bill. The original idea was to have a treasurer instead of the churchwarden, and the word "treasurer" was left where it ought not to be.


I am happy to hear this explanation; but when such an accidental slip escapes the notice of a man like the hon. and learned Gentleman, in regard to a matter which must have bothered him a good deal, it made one look rather narrowly into it, especially as the copy which I hold in my hand, and on which I am commenting, is an amended copy of the Bill. I also see in this Bill a provision which I consider is one of a most undesirable, and I believe of a mischievous character. It is a proposition, too, by no means calculated to facilitate the voluntary collection of monies for the maintenance of the Church—I allude to the provision for dividing the parish into two distinct camps. That, in my opinion, will be one of the greatest misfortunes. You are to have a separate churchwarden elected by a portion of the people, with some of those persons qualified and sonic of them disqualified. At present it is the very general practice—I know not whether it is also the law or not—for the parishioners to elect one churchwarden and for the minister to nominate another. We are not informed by the Bill whether that is to be continued or whether there is to be another church-warden elected for the purposes of that measure. The Bill likewise states that all the money collected at the offertory is to be at the disposal of what is called the ecclesiastical churchwarden. That was a matter of very considerable importance. Great part of the money so collected is for the poor, and I have never understood that a poor person in a parish is to be shut out from the benefit of the money collected at the church door because he did not happen to be of the same religion. I shall have still further objection to the money so collected for the poor being taken out of the ordinary operation of the law, as it now stands, and the present distribution of which, I believe, has always worked very smoothly, and I do not see why that principle should be introduced into a Bill like this. I have now endeavoured as shortly as I am able to state my objections to the machinery of the right hon. Gentleman's measure, which will mar and hinder the application of the voluntary principle, to which we must come if church rates are to be abolished. An hon. Friend of mine (Mr. Neate) has proposed an Amendment, in the principle of which I entirely concur. It is an Amendment conceived in a full and fair spirit of compromise, and is to the effect that Church rates ought not to be abolished without some legal means being provided for the maintenance of the fabric of the Church; and I cannot sit down without expressing my thanks to my hon. Friend for proposing an Amendment which I believe to be so sound in principle, and which I am quite content to accept in place of a direct negative upon the second reading of the measure.


said, as the subject was a new one to him in that House, he hoped he would be allowed to make a few observations upon it. He viewed with satisfaction the prospect of a termination being put to this interminable question of church rates, because while he was aware of the advantages which the Church of England had derived in the sustentation of her fabrics and maintenance of her churchyards from church rates, he was convinced that those advantages had been much more than counterbalanced by all the evils, the bickerings, and the strife that the collection of this impost had given rise to, and by the idea becoming more and more deeply rooted in the public mind that this was not a fair and equitable tax, but was a remnant of religious intolerance. He did not wish to reopen the whole question, as if it had never been discussed before, but he wished to refer to an argument which had been put forward on authority. That argument was that the Church of England was a national institution, and that being a national institution, it was the right of all to partake of its ceremonies; and that this bargain that they were making by this Bill was an unequal bargain, as they were keeping up the privilege, but doing away with the corresponding obligation of supporting the institution. Now he said that argument was nothing more than a quibble, because it put out of sight all the circumstances of the day. It was impossible not to recognize the fact that there was a large and influential body of Dissenters outside the Church. He thought that the policy of the Church towards those persons should be one not of fear, but of conciliation. It should regard them not as foes, but as a body of allies who had the same hopes and interests as they had. But he wished to come to the Bill now immediately before the House, and he ventured to say that the country owed another debt of gratitude to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire for bringing in a Bill by which there was, at least, a prospect of settling this question. He, however, felt some objections to the Bill, and he wished to state them as plainly as he could. The sting of the whole question was the money payment, and he regretted that they had retained in this Bill that which was the cause of all the bitterness. He should be told that this payment was not compulsory, but if it were not compulsory he did not see why they need have any legislative sanction to enforce it. He should prefer to leave the matter to the voluntary efforts of the Church of England, and that they should not attempt to bolster up what was practically a voluntary subscription by legislation. There was something invidious in his mind in the provisions in the Bill for reinstating a member of the Church of England in his former position. He must pay up his arrears before he could be so reinstated. He should be told that there were hundreds of parishes that now cheerfully paid church rates, and that this Bill would work injuriously in them. Well, he saw no reason why these parishes should not continue to pay the rates. But there were many outlying and poor parishes in remote districts in which there might be a difficulty, and he confessed that that argument had weighed very strongly with him, and had made him wish to wait to see if any compromise could be effected before he exposed them to voluntary efforts. But if the arm of the Church was not long enough and if the charity of the Church was not wide enough to reach those outlying parishes, all he could say was that for his part he had grievously misunderstood the strength and charity of the Church. But if Dissenters, or the organs of Dissent in that House who represented the opinion of the great body of Nonconformists, if they were willing to accept this Bill, it was not for him as a churchman to object to it. For his humble part he should wish to throw down any barrier that existed between the Church and Dissenters, or, to use a better term, Nonconformists, or, to use perhaps the best and happiest term of all, Nonconforming churchmen. He should accept this Bill and vote for it, not because he saw in it any intention, or suspected that there was any covert intention, to bring about that which he conscientiously and fervently wished for, but because he did see in it an earliest symptom of that which he believed they must come to, and the sooner they came to it the better, he meant total, unconditional, and untrammelled abolition.


said, the hon. Gentleman who had just sat down had expressed his thanks to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire for his attempt to compromise this question. He was disposed to join with him in that expression of opinion, because he thought that any Member, in whatever position in that House, who attempted to deal with this question so as to do away with that feeling of irritation which had existed for so many years, was entitled to their thanks. But, at the same time, he could not agree with his hon. Friend that if Dissenters were disposed to acquiesce in this Bill as a settlement of the question, therefore churchmen should also acquiesce in it. What had been the difficulty in settling this question? It was because there was a principle at issue which no Bill that had ever been brought forward had been at all able to deal with. The broad question at issue between those who took a lead in proposing the abolition of church rates and those who maintained church rates was this. The advocates of abolition said, "We will admit of no compromise which reserves a legal rate for the repair of the Church." On the other hand, those who were in favour of church rates said, "We will be no party to a compromise which does not preserve to the Church some legal means of maintaining the fabric." For many years the question was argued in that house as a question of conscientious grievance, that Dissenters were made to pay the expenses of worship in a church in which they did not join. Well, churchmen were willing to relieve Dissenters from the payment, but then they found that Dissenters were not willing to be relieved, and there came up the phrase which was now a matter of history, "Dissenters refuse to be ticketed." He confessed that when the objection was first made he was disposed to think it was a fanciful objection, but further consideration had led him to believe that the Dissenters were right in refusing to be ticketed. He said that in the interest of the Church. The prevalence of Dissent in many places, he regretted to say, had been traceable in past time, and to some extent was still traceable, to the lukewarmness and inactivity of the Established Church. He thought they had only to call attention to the system of pew rents, which drove the poor into the worst part of the church, and left the best places for those who could afford to pay for their seats, to account in a great measure for the poor going elsewhere. The poor had felt that they were not fairly dealt with. There was also the question of hours of service and length of service, and he was not satisfied that all classes of the community were sufficiently considered in this matter. There was also the question of style of preaching to the lower classes. He believed that in many cases they resorted to other places because the discourses there were delivered in more vernacular language. He looked forward to a time when these things might alter, when the Established Church would open wide her arms and endeavour to embrace in her folds many of those who were now driven to Dissenting places of worship; and therefore he should be sorry in the interests of the Church to see a broad line of demarcation drawn between churchmen and Dissenters by any system of ticketing. But he confessed that the Bill before the House seemed to him to ticket Dissenters. Though not exactly in the way that was proposed before, it was equally ticketing whether they ticketed them by exclusion or by designation. What were the provisions of the Bill? Why, that no person was to vote at the poll on church rates unless he had previously entered his name in a book stating that he was willing to pay church rates. Now, he wanted to know what was that but making a list of the churchmen in the parish? All the ratepayers who were not on the list were, in fact, ticketed as Nonconformists, and therefore he did not see how the proposition of the right hon. Gentleman at all got out of the ticketing difficulty. But, as he stated when he first rose, the great difficulty in settling this question was the question of principle—whether there should be a legal provision for the maintenance of the Church. In fact, this question lay at the root of the connection between Church and State, and he could not for the life of him understand how they could say the Church was connected with, and maintained by, the State if there was no legal provision for the repair of the Church. He understood the hon. and learned Gentleman to say that he was for having a legal provision for the maintenance of the fabric. But there was nothing in this Bill to make such a provision, and therefore he considered they were justified in oppposing it. On the other hand, if there was such a provision, he asked the right hon. Gentlemen who had charge of the Bill to state where that provision existed. If he could be satisfied that this Bill contained such a provision, or that by any alteration of the Bill they could make such a provision, it would be with the greatest pleasure that he should see in another Session this measure made the basis of a settlement. But he did not understand the Bill to contain any such provision. What did the Bill do? It abolished the compulsory enforcement of church rates, but it went on to maintain the existing machinery for the collection of a voluntary rate. What was a voluntary rate? It was simply a subscription on the basis that everyone should pay pro rata. But that was not a rate in the sense in which they understood a rate. What was understood by a rate was that which could be levied by law. This Bill preserved the present machinery to collect that which there was no legal right to enforce. The Bill provided that no persons were entitled to go to the poll unless they had signed a book stating that they were willing to pay their respective shares. But supposing they afterwards refused to pay, there was nothing in this Bill to compel them. Therefore, it seemed to him there was no legal provision for the maintenance of the fabric of the Church. Then there was a matter of detail which presented a difficulty. Suppose a parish with 100 ratepayers, the churchwarden, in making his calculations, would put down say half of them as willing to sign the book and pay the rate, and he would then fix the rate at say 6d. in the pound. But if only one half of those he calculated on paid, then double the amount of the rate would be required. There was another provision of the Bill which gave great encouragement to the view of many persons that there ought to be a separation between Church and State, and that was that there was to be a secular and an Ecclesiastical churchwarden. That was a sort of Japanese institution. In Japan there were two Emperors, the Tycoon and the Mikado, one of whom had charge of Ecclesiastical, and the other of temporal matters. That principle had never been recognized in the parochial system of this country; and, independently of the inconvenience it would occasion in working the business of the parish, he must say it was the first step he had seen proposed by any one holding a position like that of the right hon. Gentleman opposite towards the separation of Church and State. Then there was the objection alluded to by his hon. Friend the Member for Warwick as to what effect this proposition would have upon the conduct and practices of the parochial clergy. They all knew what were the evils arising from the system of pew rents; they knew that the clergy sometimes by doing their duty and preaching faithfully diminished the number of pews that were taken in their churches, and consequently reduced their own emoluments. But if this rate were voluntary, and if the payments in the nature of church rate were to be made by those who signed this book from time to time, he wanted to know what would be the influence of that upon the conduct and the preaching of the parochial clergy. Would there not be attempts made to induce them to agree to the views and wishes of certain parishioners by threats that if they did not so agree those parishioners would not sign the book? It seemed to him that they would excite rash parishioners to put the screw on the clergy, which the clergy in many cases would not be able to resist. This Bill was not one that could be accepted by the Church as a settlement of this question. He understood that it was introduced as a compromise between Nonconformists and Churchmen. What he understood by a compromise was, that each litigant made a concession in return for some other concession, but he was at a loss to know what the Dissenters gave up here in return for what the Church gave up. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone), if he addressed the House on that occasion, would explain that point. He wished to say a word with regard to the alleged agreement as to the opposition to this Bill. He understood that he was supposed to have run counter to an alleged agreement, by objecting the other night to the second reading of that measure being taken at one o'clock, and stating his desire to have an opportunity of expressing his opinion upon it. He much regretted any agreement having been entered into that the second reading should be agreed to by the Government on the understanding that the Bill should not be proceeded with further this Session, and that such assent to the second reading should not be taken as an assent to the principle of the Bill. But as such an agreement had been entered into, if a division were taken he would not vote upon the second reading, but would retire from the House, at the same time reserving to himself the right of voting against the measure if it were re-introduced in another year.


expressed his thanks to the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) for bringing in this Bill. It was brought in not so much on the general principle as in relation to the measure which had already received the sanction of the House for the total abolition of church rates; and he thought that in the face of the vote given by the hon. Member for Oxford in favour of the second reading of the Bill for the Total Abolition of Church Rates, it was not competent to that hon. Gentleman to propose his Amendment with reference to this Bill. A large majority of the House voted for the second reading of the Bill for the Total Abolition of Church Rates, and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire stepped in and said: "I do not think it right or fair to pass, as against all parties, a sweeping measure for total abolition; and therefore I propose that parishes shall, if they are willing, be at liberty to assess themselves voluntarily for the purpose of maintaining the fabric of the Church." He (Mr. Goldney) could scarcely conceive that the Church would be worse off if the right hon. Gentleman's Bill passed than it would be if the Bill for total abolition passed. Every one was anxious that the fabric of the Church should be maintained. The total cost of maintaining that fabric had been £60,000 a year on an average during the last ten years, and as there were trust funds which produced £37,000 per annum for the maintenance of the fabric of the church, this question reduced itself to one of about £20,000 or £25,000 a year. The other portion of the church rates, £150,000 a year, was put to a great number of purposes that were not strictly church purposes, such as payments for bell ringing on the anniversary of the Queen's accession, payments for fire - engines, vestry clerks salaries, and other non-ecclesiastical matters. Could it be supposed that Churchmen would not voluntarily contribute £20,000 a year for the maintenance of the fabric of the Church? He believed that far more would be raised by a voluntary rate than was now raised by a compulsory rate. Would it not be wise to pass such an Act as this, and thus prevent people from making political capital out of seizures of goods for non-payment of a 2s. rate? If this Bill were read a second time, it would be quite competent to any hon. Gentleman to propose a clause in Committee similar to the Amendment of the hon. Member for Oxford, to secure to parishes in which unsuccessful attempts might be made to work this Bill, sufficient money wit of the surplus funds of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, or some other ecclesiastical body, to keep the fabric of the church in repair in those parishes.


said, all the provisions of the Bill after the abolition clause were disadvantageous to the Church and objectionable in principle. Gentlemen on both sides of the House had vied with each other in rendering thanks to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire when he brought in his Bill. But the House now presented an extraordinary example of sudden change of sentiment, for hon. Members were now flatly contradicting their former speeches. Though taunted by the right hon. Gentleman with objecting, as a lawyer, to the closing of the Courts, the fact, on the contrary, was that the only clause which he supported was that for closing the Courts. All the rest he, as a Churchman, entirely disapproved of. The Bill of the right hon. Gentleman was spoken of as a compromise. But it was no compromise. Compromises might be attempted of two kinds—one possible, one impossible. A possible compromise might be where the Church expenses were divided into two parts, to one of which the Dissenters did not object, while on the other the Churchmen did not insist. The maintenance of the fabric, for instance, might be thrown on the public, but the expenses of worship on the worshippers alone. But such was not the compromise proposed by this Bill. He believed that the time for compromises had gone by. He was sorry for it. What was proposed by this Bill by way of compromise? Why, the impossible. It was an attempt at a compromise between compulsion and voluntaryism. There was to be a rate, but it was to be voluntary, not exactly free, not altogether forced. It was proposed to stop half way. The thing was impossible. The Bill would preserve all the jealousies, all the heart-burnings, all the dissensions, and all the strifes which we wanted to get rid of. Church rates were, he might add, paid either on the ground of public obligation as a citizen to support a national institution, or as an equivalent for a certain amount of accommodation received by the person who paid them. They were, indeed, levied on both those principles where Dissent was unknown, but the payment must now be ranged under one or the other of the two heads which he had just mentioned. If, then, the system of compulsory church rates was abolished it was clear that the first of those two principles must be abandoned. As to the second, he would only say that it was, in his opinion, a very reasonable principle that a man should be called upon to pay for the accommodation which he received, nor did he agree with those who maintained the opinion that the doctrines taught by our clergy would be influenced by the list of their subscribers. That was a slander upon them, and if it were true they would be unworthy to be the ministers of any religious denomination. Now, if the voluntary principle were adopted a man would pay not in proportion to the size of his pew, but according to his means and according to the necessities of his church, which was a very fair thing to do. It could not, however, be expected that in a large population every one would act upon the highest principles, and many would, no doubt, proceed upon the lower principle of paying in exact proportion to the accommodation which they required. In those parishes in which that view was taken what, he should like to know, was to become of the principle of rating? A man might be an old bachelor having considerable property, but having only one seat in church, and he would be called upon to contribute a sum entirely beyond the amount of accommodation assigned him. He might, in illustration of the way in which the Bill as it now stood would be likely to operate, read a letter which he had some time ago received from a gentleman of great experience in the matter. The writer said— Sir,—As a Churchman and a large ratepayer, I beg to lay the following before you. It is proposed to make a man's church rights depend upon his paying church rates. There are others in this parish having equal pew accommodation with myself who pay only a fortieth or a sixtieth as much to the rate as I do, so that they could keep up their church rights at the cost of a few shillings, where it would cost me £20. Then, again, the vicar pays nothing to church rate, his property being by law exempt, yet he has equal accommodation for his family to that which I have, and then out of the two churchwardens he appoints one (half the executive) without contributing to the funds placed in their hands. At present we work through by mutual forbearance, the law being in that state that neither party cares to invoke it; but once sanction the proposed scheme, and an element of discord will be introduced into the Church which it will not be easy to allay. Our churches were built and endowed by the landowners for those living on their property, so that every inhabitant has certain rights to the use of the parish church and services, and the non-payment of any temporary levy ought not to deprive him of those rights. If the seat which he has in the parish church is to be paid for let it be according to the value of that seat, or such a gross injustice will be done as will be a never-ending cause of contention. The alteration proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer is crude and inconsiderate, shows such a want of knowledge of the actual state of things and disregard of principles of taxation as one little expected from such an authority upon facts and financial matters. Under the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman discord would, he feared, be introduced generally. By retaining the form of a rate without its force they lost at once the grace of voluntaryism and the grasp of law. They could no longer enforce; they could only threaten. Everything odious in the form of compulsion was retained, while everything efficient was sacrificed; and we were left, at the same time, without the power and freeness of voluntaryism, and without the vigour and authority of law.


said, he had taken considerable pains to discover why it was that the right hon. Gentleman opposite was so extremely desirous on the 1st of August to obtain a decision of the House on the principle of his Bill. On the last occasion on which the Bill was discussed the right hon. Gentleman said he thought it due to the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmund's to push it to a second reading; but if, instead of doing so, he would withdraw it, the Bill of the hon. Gentleman, which stood for Committee, might pass through that stage which there was no intention of opposing, so that he did not see that he had any reason whatever to be obliged to the right hon. Gentleman for the course which he professed to have taken in his interest. His opinion was that the real reason which urged the right hon. Gentleman to take the opinion of the House on the second reading of his Bill was, that he was anxious to have a full discussion on the merits or demerits of the particular scheme which he proposed, in order that the country might be able to form a judgment upon it. The public could, however, form their judgment without the aid of Members of that House; but the right hon. Gentleman, it was pretty clear, sought to learn what were the sentiments and feelings entertained with regard to it by the House of Commons. That being so, he ought, he thought, to thank his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire for having moved the adjournment of the debate a few nights ago. The House had in the course of the discussion that morning been favoured with three speeches, which were nominally in favour of the principle of the Bill. The first was that of the hon. Member for Warwick, but then he had concluded his speech with an eloquent peroration in favour of total abolition. Then followed his hon. Friend who sat behind him, who also said that he was in favour of the principle of the measure, but who was of opinion that if it passed it would be found necessary to apply for the necessary funds for the maintenance of the fabric of the Church in many instances to the Ecclesiastical Commission. He must, however, remind his hon. Friend that there would be no limit to the assaults which would be made upon their funds which had already been allocated for very different objects. The House had listened in the next place to the sound and able speech of the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone, who supported the principle of the measure, but maintained that what were called the compromise clauses should be abandoned. The discussion therefore did not, he thought, warrant the right hon. Gentleman opposite in supposing that his Bill was likely to be received with greater favour than when it was originally proposed. He had indeed heard—he was himself absent in consequence of illness at the time—that some arrangement had been arrived at between the right hon. Gentleman and his right hon. Friend the Member for Buckinghamshire to the effect that the Members of the Government should not vote against the second reading. That being so his opposition to the measure must be confined to speaking against it, but he nevertheless thought it was desirable that he, as an individual Member of the Government, should state the views with respect to its provisions which he entertained. He should therefore proceed, with the permission of the House, to make a few observations on the principle of the Bill. He was aware that in speaking in opposition to a measure which was said to have been introduced in the interests of peace he was pursuing what might seem an incongruous and unpopular course. It was, however, his bounden duty, he thought, to examine into the price at which the promised peace was to be purchased, and to ascertain, if possible, whether the provisions of the Bill were in reality likely to secure a settlement of the question at all. As to the price which was to be paid, he could not help looking upon it as involving the sacrifice of the very principle and essence of church rates. That principle and essence consisted in the securing up to the present time to the poor the maintenance of the services of the Church of England in some 10,000 parishes throughout the land. Pew rents had been adverted to in the course of the discussion, but it was impossible to deny that to give legislative sanction to the principle of making money of the seats in our parish churches would be to pursue a course opposed to the usage of this country. He also objected to the Bill because it would take away from the poor people of the country the security which they had hitherto enjoyed in the possession of the glorious parish churches of England, which, with the services performed therein, had been granted to them for ever free of all cost. The Bill was introduced in the interests of peace. But, he would ask, was not this a serious price to pay for this peace? And was this all? Was it not obvious that by terminating church rates —for if the Bill ever became law church rates would be virtually at an end—they must in a great degree invalidate the existing relations between Church and State in England. Upon that point he should like to quote some remarks which had been made by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire. The right hon. Gentleman in discussing in 1837, a scheme which proposed while abolishing church rates to provide for them a substitute, used the following memorable words:— It was painful to him to be obliged thus to characterize the policy of Ministers; but he felt that he should not be doing his duty if he refrained from speaking his sentiments. He was convinced, that by agreeing to the plan of the Government, they would subvert the Established Church. It was plain, from the recorded admissions of the organs of Dissenters in that House, that all future attempts to act on the principle of an Establishment would be resisted to the utmost by that which styled itself the popular party….. The devotion of the Romans was not enlightened by a knowledge of the precepts of Christianity; here religion was still more deeply rooted, and firmly fixed. And would they now consent to compromise the security of its firmest bulwark? No Ministry would dare to propose its unconditional surrender; but with the same earnestness and depth of feeling with which they should deprecate the open avowal of such a determination they ought to resist the covert and insidious introduction of the principle."—[3 Hansard, xxxvii. 501.] Again, in 1850, the right hon. Gentleman used words scarcely less remarkable. He had referred to those passages, not with the view of making any accusation against the right hon. Gentleman for having since changed his opinions, but because they tended to show very clearly the price which he asked the House in the present instance to pay for peace. He now came to the preamble of the Bill, and certainly nothing could be more alarming than the picture which it drew of the existing state of affairs. It set forth that great litigation and ill-feeling were the result of the present system; but it should be borne in mind that church rates extended throughout the length and breadth of England, while it was impossible to deny that the charge, to a certain extent, involved a financial operation. He would, however, ask the right hon. Gentleman, as a man who was intimate with finance, whether the collection of the poor rates and the revenue did not frequently give rise to litigation, and he should like to know from him whether it was his opinion that those charges ought, on that account, to be abolished? Years ago, no doubt, when the subject of church rates was first brought before the House, there was a great deal of litigation; but now, thanks to the action of the Liberation Society, and the steps taken to resist its efforts, and owing, still more, to the decisions pronounced by that eminent Judge—Dr. Lushington—the law of church rates had become one of the best understood in the State, and litigation was proportionately diminished. For his own part, he ventured to say that if, after a very short space of time, the litigation to which the right hon. Gentleman referred were continued, it would be owing to the superhuman efforts of the Liberation Society in sowing strife and division, to which Society this Bill would give a great and unnecessary triumph. The right hon. Gentleman seemed to assume that the people of England could not assemble to settle whether ld., or 2d., or 3d. in the pound should be raised for the maintenance of the fabric of the Church without ill-feeling, but that he felt assured must be regarded as a libel on the community at large. He would, in the next place, shortly advert to the character of the peace which was proposed. At the present moment church rates were levied in some 8,000 or 9,000 out of the 10,000 parishes of England without any vexation whatever, but how would the case be when the present Bill came into operation, and when every parish would be divided into two hostile camps? For his own part, he could conceive no measure more calculated to lead to local jealousies, local vexation, and local strife, than the right hon. Gentleman's Bill. If the clauses described as constituting the compulsory principle passed into law, they would aggravate every tendency to strife, and he could not conceive a greater source of irritation in a parish than depriving of their immemorial rights as parishioners the poor who did not contribute to the maintenance of the fabric of the church. With regard to the collection of the voluntary rate, the provision in the Bill would prove a dead letter. Farmer Smith, who wrote down his name in a book as willing to pay his share, would, when called upon by the collector, no doubt, say that he was willing to pay if his neighbour Jones paid, and Jones would decline the contribution because he had heard that his neighbour Smith had no intention to pay. Thus no collection would be made, and all the burden would fall on the unfortunate clergyman of the parish. The church rate having thus fallen through, the landlords would raise their rents, and the very mischief then occurred which the right hon. Gentleman in the speech referred to pointed out. 5 or 10 per cent went into the pockets of the landlords, and the services of the Church were left to be provided for as best they might. He would now refer to an important consideration not hitherto noticed. The restoration of many of our ancient churches was now being carried on by means of money borrowed upon the security of church rates; but if this Bill passed, no funds could in future be raised in that manner, and our old ecclesiastical fabrics would be allowed to fall into decay and ruin. This Bill was an arrow from the quiver of the hon. Member for Birmingham, aimed with great precision at the parochial part of the Church of England; but that its adoption would not settle either the question of church rates, or any other of the ecclesiastical questions which were bound up in it, was proved by the suggestion of the hon. Gentleman himself, that in Committee a clause should be introduced to provide for the abolition of Easter dues, and by the declaration of one of the organs of the Liberation Society, that as long as tithes continued to exist these questions could not be considered as settled. It was related of the officer who commanded the guard to which was intrusted the defence of the Bank of England during the Lord George Gordon riots, that he addressed the gentlemen volunteers who had come to his assistance in these terms—"Gentlemen, we do not fear the rioters, if the gentlemen volunteers on our flanks and in our rear will be good enough to ground their arms." They who defended the principle of church rates, and the existing relations between Church and State, did not fear the Liberation Society, or the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury St. Edmund's, but undoubtedly they did feel their power of resistance to a certain extent enfeebled by these amiable efforts of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire. He entreated the right hon. Gentleman, if, animated by a sincere affection for the Church of England, he introduced the present measure with the simple idea of effecting a compromise beneficial to the Church, to weigh well during the recess the strongly-recorded, and, he believed, unanimous feeling of the laity, as well as the clergy of the Church of England, with respect to the present proposal. He never remembered so universal a feeling of condemnation expressed on any of the Church Rate Bills hitherto brought forward, as had been expressed out of the House on the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman. On the introduction of the Bill, the right hon. Gentleman said that unless it met with a fair amount of support from both Church and Dissent he should not think it his duty to persevere with it. The expression of feeling which had already taken place outside these walls demonstrated that Churchmen were hostile to the principle of the Bill and disliked its details, and the discussions in the House had shown that that support to the principle and provisions which he at one time expected to obtain had not been offered by hon. Members. He therefore thought that the right hon. Gentleman would be well advised if he took all these manifestations of feeling into consideration.


said, that the discussion which had taken place upon this Bill had afforded an additional proof that those who proposed any settlement of the church rate question, short of total and unqualified abolition, undertook a very difficult task. The real question was, whether the proposal of his right hon. Friend, while satisfactory to the main body of the Dissenters, would not be more advantageous to the Church than the Bill of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmund's, which enacted the unconditional abolition of church rates, subject only to the payment of existing debts. Now the Bill of his right hon. Friend proposed to maintain the machinery by which church rates were assessed, in order that it might be made use of in parishes where the ratepayers were perfectly willing to avail themselves of it, and to pay the rate when made, provided no compulsory process was adopted. There was a hardship in affirming the abolition of church rates, and enacting that none should, under any circumstances, be raised, for there was no reason why those parishes which were willing to raise and pay church rates should be prohibited from doing so, and, though about half the population did not pay church rates, yet the number of parishes in which church rates were paid (the parishes being small) was about 80 or 90 per cent. The hardship was when a minority in a parish were forced by compulsory process to pay church rates. He regarded the principle of the present Bill as sound. It abolished church rates in the sense of their being leviable by compulsory process; but it retained the machinery for those who chose to make use of it for a voluntary assessment. There seemed to be nothing unreasonable in the proposition—on the contrary, the principle appeared to be generally acceded to—that those who did not contribute to the voluntary rate should not take part in the application of the fund. A great deal of the objection to the Bill turned, not on the principle, but on the details, which might be fully considered in Committee, and in the consideration of which much advantage might be derived from the criticisms which had been offered in the course of this debate. Many of the provisions of the Bill had been misrepresented, and he would refer to one misrepresentation dwelt on by the noble Lord, who said that the Bill would deprive the poor of that right to accommodation in the parish church which from time immemorial they had possessed. He presumed the noble Lord referred to that part of the Bill which declared that no person, declining to pay the voluntary rate, should be entitled to demand as of right that any seat or portion of the Church should be allotted to him. That provision, however, took away no right which the parishioners generally and individually had to accommodation in the parish church. In almost every country church there were particular seats appropriated to persons of property, while the general body of the church was given up to the public. By the provision in the Bill, a person possessing a seat in a church by a faculty or custom would, if he did not pay the church rate, lose the right to the seat, which would be given up to the general body of the parishioners, and therefore the accommodation for the parishioners would be increased instead of diminished. The Bill removed one of the greatest objections he had always entertained to the abolition of church rates, because it left the parishioners free to exercise their own discretion as to levying church rates. It seemed that he was understood by the noble Lord to have given his assent to the proposal that the money for the repair of the fabrics of the Church should be taken out of the funds at the disposal of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. He gave no opinion upon that point, though he admitted it was competent for the House to adopt, in Committee on the Bill, a provision in the spirit of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Oxford, that a certain sum should be appropriated out of the revenues of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for the maintenance of the fabrics of the Church. Indeed, if no legal provision were made for the repair of the fabrics, the necessary sum could come out of no other funds. In Ireland for many years the course had been taken of charging the funds in the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commission with the repair of the fabrics. He hoped the House would affirm the second reading of the Bill, and in any future Session when brought before the House he thought it would be considered more beneficial to the Church than the entire abolition of church rates.


wished to state that he was not actuated by any feeling of hostility to the authors of the Bill when he opposed the discussion of this Bill after midnight some days ago. On the contrary, admitting the weight due to the names of the right hon. Member for South Lancashire and the hon. and learned Member for Richmond, he was anxious that any proposal coming from them, especially one which was said to be of the nature of a compromise on this subject, should be fully considered. He was also mindful of the advice and censure given by the right hon. Member for South Lancashire to those who followed what he called the principle of indiscriminate resistances. That advice had been shown to be uncalled for and that censure undeserved, because they had always expressed themselves desirous of a settlement of the church rate question. Take the proposal made by his right hon. Colleague on the part of the Government of Lord Derby in a former year —namely, that Dissenters should have the power of exempting themselves from paying church rates. Take the proposal of the Solicitor General and the proposal of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, which obviated every objection on conscientious grounds to the payment of church rates—these were all of the nature of a real compromise, but every one of them was met by an Amendment that the Bill should be read that day six months. Now they were met by a proposal not for a compromise, but for abolition. In the last Parliament no friend of the Church had ever expressed an opinion in favour of the principle of this Bill, which was, in fact, nothing but a repetition of a proposal made by the hon. Member for Birmingham. A compromise implied some concession; but there was no concession in this Bill; but he considered that it would be more injurious to the Church than the measure of the hon. Member for Bury. The first of the three principles involved in the Bill, as stated by the Member for Richmond, was the abolition of a compulsory church rate. That was the Bill of the hon. Member for Bury. The second—namely, the continuing the machinery for a voluntary rate, only threw a doubt on what at present was perfectly indisputable. At present voluntary contributions were unfettered, but the Bill provided that it should be lawful in any parish where no provision was made adequate for the maintenance of the Church to make voluntary contributions for that purpose. Who was to judge whether there was no sufficient fund? The hon. Member for Richmond admitted that the law imposed on parishes the obligation of maintaining the parish church, and it also left persons free to contribute. But this clause not only raised a doubt, but fettered the parishioners, for it implied that voluntary contributions should not be made except when there was no sufficient fund for the maintenance of the Church. He maintained that the provision regarding the persons entitled to vote upon the voluntary assessment would turn out perfectly nugatory, for though those persons declared their readiness to pay their respective shares, yet they were not under any legal obligation to do so. The churchwardens were also to be converted by the Bill into a sort of Cerberus, and he thought the provision on that head would give rise to great litigation, as doubts would arise in many cases whether the whole Cerberus was to act, or only two parts out of the three. With respect to the 8th clause, which contained the third principle of the Bill, the provision relative to the right to a seat in the church, was more objectionable than any other, as tending to destroy the nationality of the Church. He was astonished to hear the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth speak about faculties, as if the right to seats in the church depended on faculties. Every one knew that the right by faculty was a rare exception, and that every parishioner had a right to a seat in the church, though, in order to prevent unseemly disputes, the churchwardens, as Executive officers, regulated the enjoyment of that right. It had been said that the obligation to pay church rates depended on the accommodation which a parishioner received in the parish church, but he denied that altogether, for it was an obligation imposed by common law for the maintenance of the Church for the good of all. He likewise objected to the principle of the Bill, because it drew a distinction between two classes—those who paid and those who did not. He admitted the important services which in many instances had been rendered by Dissenters in the cause of religion and education. They had often filled a void which had been left by the shortcomings of the Church; but none of the Dissenting communities would ever dream of undertaking the great general responsibility belonging to the National Church. The position which they occupied was to act for the benefit of particular congregations; but the parish church was for the parishioners at large, irrespective of classes or individuals; and the more poor and the more unwilling to accept the services of the Church the people of a district were, the more necessary it was that the ministrations of the Church should be provided for them. Looking to this Bill in the aspect of what the hon. Member for Richmond called its third principle, it must be at once apparent that, so far from being in the least degree beneficial to the Church, it was a denial of the very principle on which it rested, and was, in point of fact, destructive of the nationality of the Church. He would now say a few words upon the position in which this question stood. He had heard of some arrangement which had been entered into by certain right hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House; but those who, like himself, sat below the gangway, knew nothing of any such agreement, and he, for one, was no party to any arrangement. But, at the same time, he was willing fairly to consider any proposal made in a friendly spirit for the purpose of a compromise. To the present Bill, however, he never could assent; and if any division took place he must vote against it, considering it entirely hostile to the Church in its principles and in the whole of its details. He trusted that the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone), finding that those whom he wished to conciliate could see nothing in the Bill but what would be more injurious than total repeal, would withdraw the Bill, and that during the recess he and other Gentlemen would employ themselves in endeavouring to discover something more worthy than this of the name of a compromise; but should he and others be disappointed in this, they would in a future Session meet readily every reasonable offer for a settlement of this question. But if their own attempts at compromise were met, as they had been before, by absolute refusal, or by an offer like the present Bill, which was worse than the total abolition of church rates, and if they were compelled again to fight the battle, they would do so with the same spirit and confidence that animated them in the last Parliament, when they converted a majority of seventy-four into a minority of ten; they would be ready to resist any such measure, not merely on account of those 9,000 parishes in which church rates were cheerfully paid, but also as advocates of that old Saxon principle of local self-government, the right of the people to tax themselves for purposes which the majority should determine to be for the general good.


said, believing that church rates were the cause of great religious strife, and were not beneficial to the Church, he hailed with satisfaction the present Bill. He belonged to one of the largest Nonconformist Churches in this country—namely, the Wesleyan Methodist Church, and as it had been referred to in this debate, he rose to give the House some information respecting it. The hon. Member for Buckingham said, on Tuesday, 24th July— The Wesleyans, for instance, did not wish to see the Church of England degraded or destroyed; they only desired to be relieved of church rates, As it was now admitted on the other side for the first time that the Wesleyans desire to be relieved of church rates, it was not necessary for him to prove that such was the case. It was perfectly true that the Wesleyans did not wish to destroy the Church of England, and, in fact, that originally the Wesleyans were members of the Church of England, and that some of their most eminent ministers were clergymen, and remained clergymen of that Church during the whole of their lives. Some of them were even bigotedly in favour of the connection between Church and State, but as the body grew more numerous, and felt the pressure of their own religious institutions, they became sensible of the burden of being obliged to support the Establishment in the shape of church rates. He remembered the time when they kept aloof, under the influence of their religious guides, from all contests about church rates, but one after another they were drawn into those contests, and he knew one parish in which through their opposition church rates were abolished. They would not have objected to the income derived from fixed sources—such as tithe—being continued to the Church; but regarding church rates as a voluntary impost, which the majority of the parishioners might grant or refuse, they thought they were perfectly justified in availing themselves of the state of the law to oppose church rates, contributing as they did so largely for the support of their own religious institutions. He believed, also, that the existence of church rates had tended greatly to alienate the Wesleyans from the Church. The Wesleyan Methodist Church in England and Wales numbered 2,643,400, and in the various dependencies of this country the numbers were 1,045,968. But there had been several separations from this body, and taking the seceders and the others together, there were 5,788,308, of whom 250,000 belonged to foreign stations of their Missionary Societies. The Methodist churches raised annually a sum of £2,074,000 for the maintenance of their own religious institutions, and all these, he believed, would be glad to be rid of church rates. They contributed liberally and freely to the support of their own institutions, and they therefore thought they ought to be relieved from any obligation to support the institutions of so wealthy a body as the Church of England. He was bound to express the opinion that many who had left the Church to join the Wesleyan Methodists had been driven from the Church by the strife which arose out of the contests about church rates. He believed that, upon examination, it would be found that more than one half the nation belonged to the Nonconformist Churches, and it therefore behoved those belonging to the National Church to consider what was wanted to maintain the good feeling and attachment of the masses of the people to the National Church, and to remove those causes of strife and dissension which had existed up to the present time. He begged to declare his adhesion to the Bill introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire.


said, in consequence of the statement he had made on a former occasion in respect to this Bill not having been clearly understood, he wished now to repeat it. The objections which he had to the Bill was, that whereas by the Bill the legal control of the ornaments, services, ministrations, and appropriation of seats in the parish churches would be given to the officer called the ecclesiastical churchwarden for the purposes of this Act; and whereas by the 9th clause that officer was to be appointed, or might be appointed, by a minority of the parish—namely, by those who paid the rate as contradistinguished from those who did not pay it, his (Mr. Newdegate's) objection was that the representatives of the minority of the parish would, in such case, have the sole control of the interior and exterior management and of the externals of the ministration of the Church. That objection was the stronger, because that officer would probably become the representative of persons of extreme opinions in the parish, whether those persons were of High Church, Low Church, or No Church principles, they would probably be the most willing to pay the rate under such circumstances, because they would know that by paying it they would obtain an undue control, by law, over the manner in which the services of the Church were to be provided for and would be carried on. The Bill would thus give encouragement to the minority in a parish representing extreme opinions to enforce them on the whole body of the parishioners. He was sorry to say he had seen gross abuses arising from the circumstance that the clergymen and others of a parish entertained extreme opinions. He had seen one clergyman proclaim himself a Nonconformist or a Calvinist. Cases of ritualistic excesses were now more frequent, as was proved by the petitions before the House. The effect was to drive the great body of the parishioners from the church, who refused payment of the church rates, as the only remedy left them. The hon. Member for Knaresborough gave them to understand that certain portions of the Wesleyan body objected to the payment of church rates. Now, a remarkable case occurred in his county which showed that a very different feeling than that attributed to them prevailed amongst the Wesleyan body. The clergyman of a particular parish in his county had been a high churchman and opposed to the church rates. The result was that from want of the necessary funds the church was gradually falling into a state of decay. The Wesleyan portion of the parishioners, however, came forward, and in vestry assembled declared themselves in favour of a church rate, which, being carried by their votes, was applied to the restoration and repair of the parish church. He (Mr. Newdegate) concurred in the opinion of his hon. Friends the Members for Cambridge and Oxfordshire that this Bill struck directly at the national character of the Church of England. It contained a principle of exclusion, which would destroy the national characteristics of the Church of England, and produce a state of things well calculated to foster divisions between the Church of England and the Wesleyan body. He had presented a Bill to the House that would have swept away every vestige of personal liability, and would give full relief to conscientious scruples so far as Dissenters were concerned. It proposed a real compromise, and, if passed, would transfer the payment of rates for the maintenance of the church from the whole body of occupiers to the owners of property. The measure now before the House purported to be a compromise, but he denied that it was a compromise at all. It gave up the whole principle of a parochial provision for the maintenance of the fabric. Indeed, it (lid worse, for it armed the minority who chose to pay the rate with the power, it might be, of excluding the vast majority of the parishioners from any interference with the affairs of the church, and some, probably, from seats in the church. Having been misunderstood as to what he had previously said in respect to this Bill he trusted that the House would excuse him for entering into this explanation.


having taken part in a very earnest endeavour to settle this question by way of compromise, desired to offer a few observations. In the Bill which he had introduced, but which had not yet been read a second time, and probably would not now be so during the present Session, he addressed himself most anxiously to frame a measure which would effect a real compromise by steering a middle course between the two parties; and he believed those who studied it, free from the influence of the Liberation Society, would find that it was entitled to the serious consideration of all who wished a settlement of the question. He invited the attention of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire and the House generally to the principles of his measure. Indeed, if they calmly considered the provisions of his Bill, he believed it was possible that they would obtain, not only the approval of the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, but also that of a large body of Members on the opposite side of the House. The great difficulty in dealing with church rates was to have a law applicable to the whole country—the rural population and the population of the towns being entirely at variance with each other on the subject. In the large towns it might be said they had already practically abolished church rates; but, on the other hand, there was a vast body of the rural population—90 per cent of these parishes willing to pay and contributing readily and cheerfully for the maintenance of their churches. It, therefore, seemed to him that a measure proposed as a real compromise must accommodate itself to both of these parties. The demand for total abolition was chiefly urged by householders in towns, and in boroughs where parties were pretty equally divided its advocates were in a position to exact pledges which many Members conscientiously believed ought not to be given. ["No, no!"] Hon. Gentlemen said "No!" but he knew, from private conversations, what pressure was put upon candidates, and without making any reflection on such Gentlemen, it might easily be conceived that when the issue of an election depended upon a few votes a pledge might be exacted, almost unconsciously, in favour of total abolition. Ile had endeavoured to frame a measure which should be of general application, and should adapt itself to the varying circumstances of different places. It seemed to him, therefore, that just as each parish should decide whether or not it would have a church rate, according to the preponderance of one side or another, so each individual should have the right to say whether or not he would contribute to the maintenance of the Church; and though many clauses in his Bill, being hastily drawn up, might, no doubt, be improved, the principle of the measure was that every person who desired not to pay the rate might absolutely relieve himself from the obligation by simply giving notice to that effect. He did not propose to require any person to declare that he conscientiously objected to the payment of the rate, and it would be just as competent for a member of the Church of England as for a Dissenter to give the notice of objection. He believed, indeed, that the great body of Dissenters, so far from disliking to avow their principles, were proud of their Nonconformity; but, as the organ of the Liberation Society had raised a cry that Dissenters would not be "ticketed," he had thought it right to avoid that difficulty. In attempting a compromise it was obvious that not only must the relief of Dissenters be considered, but the measure must be of such a character as to be acceptable to the Church. Now, as regarded Dissenters, if a notice that they did not desire to contribute to the rate would entirely relieve them from the liability, they surely ought to be satisfied, for upon no just principle could the parishes willing to raise rates—amounting to 90 per cent—be over-ruled by the 10 per cent which took a different view. His plan accordingly—and he hoped it would be considered by the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) —if he gave further attention to the subject during the recess—enabled persons who desired to do so to continue the payment of rates, and as any settlement of this question must be submitted to the other House, he might remark that he had reason to believe that his Bill would meet with the concurrence of the Bench of Bishops, whereas, he understood the measure of the right hon. Gentleman would not receive their support. Now, a Bill which relieved Dissenters, and at the same time obtained the approval of those most interested in the Church, plainly presented the elements of a compromise, whereas the present measure, though introduced by the right lion. Gentleman as a compromise, and though still persistently described as such, was an absolute concession to the Dissenters, without a single redeeming feature in favour of the Church. A Bill framed on such a principle was not likely ever to pass. Moreover, instead of getting rid of strife and ill-feeling, the Bill would increase it threefold. It would actually allow three church rates to be made instead of one; for it did not do away with the old rate, but simply provided that it should not be recoverable at law. A vestry, therefore, might still meet to decide whether such a rate should be made or not, and as where Churchmen had a majority they would naturally prefer a rate at common law, leaving persons to refuse to pay if they thought fit, the same discussions as hitherto would naturally take place. Then by the 4th clause the vestry was at liberty to assess a voluntary rate, which would be rate No. 2, and would be attended by the same discussions and heartburnings; and, last of all, by the 5th clause the inhabitant householders and occupiers of land could make a voluntary rate. Thus there would be three opportunities for strife and dispute, and when the rate was made those who had assented to it would not be liable to pay it. A scheme more impracticable could not be conceived. But the difficulty did not cease there, for there would be two sets of churchwardens with no definition of their respective functions, except that one set was to be for secular purposes and the other for ecclesiastical, an arrangement which would certainly lead to great confusion. Then under Clause 8 there would be endless disputes as to what parishioners were entitled to seats in the Church. It was evidently impossible that the Bill could pass in its present shape. He should be happy to assist in any measure that might be acceptable to both sides, but it was hopeless to expect anything like a compromise with those who were influenced by the views of the Liberation Society. As to the recovery of the rate, the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Gilpin) had referred on previous occasions to cases where legal proceedings had been taken for the recovery of sums like 3½d. or 6d., but if this was an objection to church rates being recoverable by law, the same argument would apply to all other duties or imposts, and it must be remembered that these cases had been purposely selected for litigation by the opponents of the rate. He thought County Court Judges might have power, if his proposal were adopted, to determine the legal liability of those who had given no notice of objection, and when persons had voluntarily incurred the liability there was no reason why they should not be made to pay. There was a considerable difference between a voluntary rate and the plan he suggested, for in the former case many persons who now paid the rate cheerfully would put off the collector time after time, and would at last, perhaps, decline to pay at all, whereas under his scheme the rate would be a legal charge on all who had not sent notice of objection. This would be a great boon to the Church, and would preserve the connection of Church and State unimpaired. In conclusion, he would urge that a measure of compromise ought to make concessions to both sides, and any measure of this character he would heartily support; but the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman, with its three rates, two sets of churchwardens, and two sets of inhabitants, did not answer to this description, and he did not intend, therefore, to support it, though he should not vote upon it.


said, that in his opinion the Bill of his hon. Friend the Member for Bury St. Edmund's was a better Bill than the one they were considering, which had been introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire. He (Mr. Hadfield) was accused as a Nonconformist of not wishing to see church rates abolished, seeing that they made so good a grievance; but he did wish to part with them, not, however, on the terms offered by the Solicitor General. If the hon. and learned Gentleman would provide that those only who were willing to pay should give a notice, instead of requiring a notice from the objectors to all church rates, he (Mr. Hadfield) believed that his Bill would pass. But it was in fact and virtually a Bishop's Bill. The Bishops, forsooth, would not have the Bill of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmund's, nor the Bill of the right hon. Member for South Lancashire, but it seems they would consent to that of the Solicitor General. What! Were they, the Commons of England, to submit to the dictation of the Bishops? To ask the consent of Bishops whether they might introduce and pass a Bill necessary for the public welfare? The Bill of the right hon. Member for South Lancashire would, if passed, produce more money for the Church than was raised at present; but it was so sweet to members of the Church of England to squeeze a little money from Nonconformists, that the Bishops would not consent to part with the power. They (the Nonconformists) were told they were an inferior class, and that it was predominance, not money, which the Church demanded. He knew it was not the paltry £300,000 a year, which they now got, that stood in the way. Why, then, permit of this incubus of church rating to retard their proceedings every Session, when the same sum would be voted for a beneficial object in a single night? He could tell the hon. Member for Buckingham that his words would not speedily be forgotten. He could tell him that Nonconformists acknowledged no predominance and no superiority in members of the Church of England. They (the Nonconformists) had been and were the best friends of the Throne, and they claimed Her Majesty's protection, so that they might not stand before the world as serfs, but as equals in every respect of members of the Church of England.


explained. He did not say his Bill was the Bill of the Bishops. He drew the Bill, and from what he had heard he had every reason to believe it would meet with the support of the dignitaries of the Church.


said, that was exactly how he understood the hon. and learned Gentleman.


My noble Friend the Chief Commissioner for Works alluded in his speech to an arrangement which he said had been made between the Government and Gentlemen sitting on the Opposition Benches, but of the particulars of which he was not cognizant, and with respect to which he appeared to be doubtful what the effect was to be. Now, as arrangements made between the representatives of different parties with regard to the proceedings of that House were essentially of a public character, and as on a former occasion I, to some extent, misconstrued the meaning of the arrangement, I will state, as accurately as I can, what it was. I received a communication from Her Majesty's Government through the regular official channel, intimating that no objection would be made to the second reading of my Bill, provided I did not seek during the present Session to go beyond that stage. But undoubtedly when that announcement was made to me, I did not expect that the Commissioner for Works, who was a Member of the Cabinet, the Secretary to the Treasury, and the Solicitor General, would make detailed and elaborate speeches in opposition to the second reading of the Bill, and that the noble Lord would have announced that this Bill would be more injurious to the Church than a measure of simple abolition. I am unable to understand the position of Members of the Government who can express such opinions, and yet feel themselves restrained from voting against the Bill. I make no complaint against any one; but I confess that if this is to be the effect of the understanding thus brought about through the agency of the Government, I hope that on future occasions such understandings will be more carefully considered by the persons who propose them, so that they may know their minds before they propose them. My noble Friend characterized my Bill as a reproduction of the project of the hon. Member for Birmingham, and I could not but be amazed when I found the hon. Member for Birmingham, the recognized and established bugbear of the country, and who had done, so very much against his own will, such excellent service to hon. Gentlemen opposite in other matters this Session, could not even now be let alone in reference to a humble Bill of this kind, but was to be discredited in connection with this measure also. My noble Friend is no doubt better acquainted with the hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham and his proceedings than I am; but I am not aware that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Birmingham had mooted the point that Dissenters not contributing to church rates should besome disabled from holding the office of churchwardens, or of taking part in the disposal of the church rate. Having listened carefully to this debate, I have heard many objections to the Bill, but those of the Solicitor General must, I think, have arisen from his not having carefully studied the measure. As to their being separate rates under the 4th and 5th clauses, the hon. and learned Gentleman forgot that one of the rates provided for parishes, and others for ecclesiastical districts. But it is to the speech of the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire that one looks for the more solid objections against the Bill. With respect to his objection about the offertory monies, he will find that the Bill leaves them wholly untouched, and that what he terms qualified excommunication means only that where there has been no payment of rates there shall be no appropriation of seats. However, these matters are not of the essence of the Bill. I turn to his objection that machinery contrived for a compulsory rate was ill adapted for a voluntary one. He said that there might be in a parish a cluster of farmers who paid collectively £2,000 a year rent; and one individual, who was richer than them all, who paid only £100 a year because he had no land, and that the farmers would be rated on the whole of their rent whilst the individual would pay only on his £100 a year. Now, in the first place, I cannot admit the correctness of the right hon. Gentleman's figures. The farmer's expenses are deducted from his rent, the same as for the income tax; but without dwelling on that, I must admit that land will always pay the highest. The right hon. Gentleman calls this a fundamental objection, but he forgets that it applies equally to the Bill of the Solicitor General. I admit that in rural parishes, where this rate is a burden on the land, our remission will make the rate a present to the tenant, but the question is whether it is not worth our while to make the sacrifice for the settlement of the question. We do not compel the parishes to use the old machinery, and when dissatisfaction springs up it will not be used. I am not at all prepared to accede to the proposal which has been made to us, that because we have failed to remove the objections of those who are opposed to us, we should withdraw our Bill. When I introduced the Bill I had no hope of removing the objections of my noble Friend or the hon. Member for Cambridge. But the encouragement we have received to proceed with the Bill has been ample. I do not complain of the diversity of opinion that exists in reference to the Bill. Many, no doubt, on this side of the House would prefer simple abolition, whilst on the other side there are many who would not acquiesce in any important change; but we stand between these two forces. We would give the exclusive management of the money raised to the Church, placing them in a much better position than they would occupy if they subscribed a sum amongst themselves, when, the moment they came to disburse it, all the non-paying parishioners could insist in taking a part in its management. We seek in fact to settle a question which has been agitated as long as one recollected, and which if not now settled may continue to be agitated until the youngest of us grows old. The prolongation of a controversy like this will not be for the advantage of the country. The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down appears to be under the impression that he has made a marvellous discovery, and has been enabled, after the consideration he has recently bestowed upon the measure, to produce a plan marked by strong features of originality and ideas that have never occurred to those who have previously dealt with this question. The oracular manner in which the hon. and learned Gentleman has pointed out that it is the rural parishes in which the rate is paid, and the populous urban parishes in which it is not paid, has at any rate been amusing to those who have been working at this matter for the last five-and-twenty years. The hon. and learned Gentleman evidently thought he was opening up a new mine, and extracting from it some sterling ore which he offered to us exceedingly cheap; but the truth is that the sterling ore has been long discovered, and has been battered and twisted into every possible shape which the most ductile metal could assume. For a number of years the House has been accustomed to have submitted to it plans of exemption from church rates, one and all of which have failed, having been found unavailable for effecting a settlement of the question. There is the hon. Member for Warwickshire who has proposed a measure for saddling church rates on land. [Mr. NEWDEGATE: Retaining.] I did not use the word "saddling" in an offensive manner; but at any rate his proposition would constitute an important transfer of the charge. The principle of this Bill has, as the hon. Gentleman well knows, been proposed to the House and rejected by a large majority. I do not know whether he cherishes the hope that there will be some change or reaction in this House; but it is enough for me to say that while unwilling that the present conflict should be continued between the maintenance of the law in its present unsatisfactory state, and the total abolition of church rates, which is moved year after year without avail—observing at the same time that no plan, founded on exemption, for the transfer of the charge has yet obtained much countenance—I think there is some ground for the hope that the present Bill will receive the sanction of the Legislature. As the great bulk of those who are favourable to total abolition are willing to make the concessions contained in this Bill, and as many of those who have voted against total abolition are also willing to accept the measure, I am naturally not undesirous of bringing the question to a conclusive position by obtaining the judgment of the House. I am encouraged by what has fallen from my noble Friend, who feels himself safe from proposals for the total abolition of church rates, but who does not feel that he is safe against a proposition which, while it receives the support of the friends of abolition, also receives support from some of those who are not favourable to abolition. Encouraged by many circumstances, and by none more than by this declaration of my noble Friend, I look forward with sanguine expectation to the vote which the House is about to give.


Before the Question is put I wish to say a word or two in consequence of what the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire has just stated. The communication I made to the official organ on the other side was to this effect:—The Government would not take a division against the second reading of the Bill, but they reserved to themselves the right of discussing the matter in the fullest possible manner, and they were not to be regarded as accepting the principle of the Bill because they did not take a division against its second reading. That was the statement made by me, and accepted by the other side.

Question put, and agreed to.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for this day month.