HC Deb 24 July 1866 vol 184 cc1444-53

(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 the Church,"—(Mr. Neate,)

—instead thereof

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

Debate resumed.


said, he approached this question with a sincere desire to treat it with the utmost liberality, and with a most cordial regard for the interest and feelings of the Dissenter; but it was impossible not to see that the House could never arrive at a just decision upon the subject unless it had the case truthfully before it. If he was rightly informed, the parishes in which church rates were no longer levied were small in numbers, but great in wealth and importance; while there was a large number of parishes, though they were of diminished population, in which church rates were levied, the inhabitants being satisfied that those rates should be continued. In places where the Dissenters were in the majority there could be no interest in respect to such Bills as this, because the question had been disposed of by the vote of the majority. Did the agitation proceed then from places in which church rates were levied? He thought not, because in these places the majority, at least, were satisfied that the rates should continue. It was true that in many of those parishes there might be a small number of Dissenters; but he believed it was not so much from them as for them the demand came that church rates should be abolished. If it were the case that the Dissenters were unwilling to accept the proposition contained in the Bill of the Solicitor General, it ought to be for some well-defined reason; but they had heard no reason at all given. In the absence, therefore, of any alleged reason, he must endeavour to find one. Some years ago there was a proposition to exempt Dissenters from the payment of church rates on their signing a declaration that they were members of a religious communion other than that of the Established Church. The hon. Baronet who was then Member for Tavistock, and leader of the movement against church rates (Sir John Trelawny), objected to that proposition, on the ground that many of those who desired exemption were members of no religious communion. The following year, with the concurrence of the noble Lord the Member for Stamford, and in order to meet that objection, he brought in a Bill which would have given an exemption to any person who signed a declaration that he did not conform to the Church of England. Again, that was objected to, on the ground that it would be "ticketing" the Dissenters, and they did not choose to be ticketed. In the Bill of the Solicitor General even that difficulty was avoided, because all it required of any one who objected to pay church rates was an intimation to the churchwardens that he desired to be exempted. Nothing could be more simple and inoffensive than such a mode of claiming exemption, but they were told by the hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer) that even that would not be satisfactory to the Dissenters. It was true that the most carefully prepared method of exemption that could be devised was open to formidable objections. One objection naturally was that to make any exemption from payment of a rate was a violation of principle, and another objection was that any process of exemption tempted those who were niggard to save their money and to throw a greater burden upon those who were liberal. That was a formidable objection no doubt, and another equally true was that in many instances churches would be left entirely unprotected. He knew instances in which the whole property belonged to the Dissenters, and of course if the property of Dissenters was exempt from church rates no church rate would be levied in those parishes, and it would fall upon the clergy and poor parishioners to raise the means necessary to maintain the fabric, assisted probably by some fund which Churchmen would probably inaugurate. In any system of adjustment, therefore, Churchmen must make considerable sacrifices; still, such was his desire for a settlement of the question that he would be willing to face all the difficulties in order to offer those who considered themselves aggrieved an acceptable proposition. Now, what were the reasons why Dissenters would not accept the terms which Churchmen were prepared to offer? The hon. Member for Birmingham had told them distinctly, "that this was a struggle for supremacy between Churchmen and Dissenters." It might be said that the hon. Member was an extreme man; well, then, what were the words of Mr. Miall, the champion of the Nonconformists? Mr. Miall said, "the entire separation of Church and State was the real object of the Dissenters." But, if that was not enough, he would quote the sentiments of the real author of the Bill. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire told the House that in this matter he had consulted the hon. Member for Stoke on the one side and Mr. Morley on the other. Now, Mr. Morley he took to be an eminent exponent of Nonconformist sentiments; upon matters of trade and business his opinions were remarkably intelligent and sound, and he, for one, regretted his absence from the House. Addressing a meeting of the Liberation Society last year Mr. Morley said he would have the Committee act in the spirit of the remarks made by the Rev. T. Binney, twenty-seven years ago, on laying the foundation stone of the Weigh - House - Yard Chapel, when he said— It is to me, I confess, a matter of deep serious religious conviction that the Established Church is a great national evil, that it is an obstacle, to the progress of truth and godliness in the land, that it destroys more souls than it saves, and that therefore its end is most devoutly to be wished for by every lover of God and man. He had heard a great deal about Romish intolerance, but he had never heard a sentiment more intolerant or atrocious than that which he had just quoted. He did not believe that these were the sentiments generally entertained by the Dissenters of this country. The Wesleyans, for instance, did not wish to see the Church of England degraded or destroyed. No doubt many who belonged to that portion of the Nonconformist body would be glad to be relieved from church rates, but they had no wish to be relieved by a process that would be destructive to the Church of England. Now, what was the difference between the Bill of the Solicitor General, and that before the House? The former carried to its full extent the principle of religious liberty; the Bill which answered the requirements of the Nonconformists would establish religious equality. While the one was in harmony with the legislation of the country, the other was absolutely incompatible with the Constitution. Religious equality we could not have while the statute book and the Constitution remained as they were. What was called the supremacy of the Church he would rather call, with the late Sir Robert Peel, its predominance. If it was intended to destroy the connection of Church and State, let them get rid of shams, false pretences, and false issues, and let a Motion be made at once for the repeal of the "Act for the Limitation of the Crown." In virtue of that Act the Sovereign of this country must be a member of the Church of England. That Act requires that as an essential antecedent to his coronation the Sovereign receive the Holy Sacrament according to the Ritual of the Church of England. And that religious act of the Sovereign is at once the religious profes- sion of the nation, and the sign of the pre-eminence of the Established Church. If that pre-eminence is disputed, let the malcontents attempt to repeal the Act on which it rests. In the matter of mere pecuniary rights there must be some few points upon which there could be no equality. The Sovereign must be of the Church of England, and her Civil List was provided out of the taxation of the country. The very chaplain of that House was paid out of the Consolidated Fund. These were points upon which the Church enjoyed a predominance, and, unless they were prepared to destroy every one of the links which connected Church and State, it would be useless to destroy that which depended on the maintenance of Church rates. He contended that the proposition embodied in the Bill of the Solicitor General contained all that the Dissenters had a right to ask, and all that Churchmen were entitled to remit. For so much he was prepared to go, but not for a Bill which sought to sever one of the ties that united Church and State together, and tended most seriously to endanger both the civil rights and religious liberty of the people of this country. He could not, therefore, vote for the Bill, and if as he believed there was an understanding that the second reading was to pass without a division, he should be compelled to absent himself when the question was put from the Chair.


begged to move the adjournment of the debate.


said, he hoped the right hon. Gentleman would not press his Motion to a division. The question was one of great importance, and an understanding had been arrived at that this was to be the last stage considered during the present Session. For his own part, he certainly should persist in asking the House to read the Bill a second time, and the matter could be disposed of more conveniently at the present sitting than on some future occasion, when, perhaps, it would stand in the way of Government business.


said, he was entirely unable to appreciate the motives leading his right hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire to press on this Bill, and he hoped the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henley) would persevere with his Motion. Had the measure for the total abolition of church rates failed to pass the second reading there might be, with some persons, an object in persisting with this Motion. The Bill was said to have been introduced as a compromise, but, instead of exhibiting anything like a spirit of concession, as far as the interests of the Church were concerned, it was more objectionable than the Bill of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds. Not one of those who had consistently advocated the continuance of the national rates, he believed, had been consulted with regard to the Bill, and it was, in point of fact, regarded by them as more objectionable than the total abolition of church rates. Much vexed and troublesome questions were sometimes got rid of by suggestions unexpected and altogether novel. But the proposal to abolish the compulsory power of enforcing church rates had not even the merit of freshness, for it was neither more nor less than the proposal made over and over again by the hon. Member for Birmingham, who certainly never thought of advancing it as a compromise, but only as a further mode of obtaining the end which he had in view. The Bill was one in any case that ought not to receive a second reading without very full discussion; and to press it forward a stage knowing that it must ultimately be abandoned could only be with the desire of gaining a questionable advantage.


said, he also should support the Motion for the adjournment of the debate. He trusted the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire would not place him in the painful position of having to leave the House rather than remain as appearing to assent to the second reading of the Bill. This Bill would not only abolish church rates, but it would break up the present parochial system. He appealed to the hon. Members on the Liberal side of the House whether they were prepared to destroy the principle of self-government in this respect.

Question put, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Henley.)

The House divided:—Ayes 64; Noes 108: Majority 44.

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


begged to move that the House do now adjourn.


said, it was not competent for the right hon. Gentleman himself to make that Motion after the last Motion which he had made.


said, in that case he would make the Motion for the adjournment of the House.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Colonel North.)


must say that it was with very great regret that he found that method of opposition resorted to. Often and often when sitting on that (the Treasury) Bench had he and his Friends discouraged Motions of a similar character coming from behind them, and urged that when it was for the convenience of the House that a debate should proceed it should not be sought to arrest it at such an hour, or even at a much later one (a quarter to one), and he thought it was the duty of the Government to follow that example on the present occasion. It should be remembered that this Bill had been accepted by Gentlemen who but for their acceptance of it would have long ago carried to the third reading a measure of their own, but who had refrained from doing so in the expectation that nothing would be done to prevent the House from giving its judgment upon the present Bill, and he therefore appealed to the Government, if they did not think the debate could now be conveniently continued, to assist him in fixing the resumption of it for Thursday at twelve o'clock.


said, he had been in the House since twelve o'clock at noon, and he could not undertake at that time of the night to discuss this Bill, as he felt it necessary to do at considerable length. He had been present on every occasion when the Bill had been before the House; it had always been brought forward at a late hour, when there was no chance of getting a fair discussion. He had just heard for the first time that there was any understanding between the right hon. Gentleman and those who had charge of the other Bill on that subject; and he believed that there were numerous Gentlemen on that (the Ministerial) side who knew nothing about it. The last remark of the right hon. Gentleman proved the entire complicity there was between the supporters of the present Bill and the advocates of total abolition, and he hoped the country would take notice of the fact as showing the real nature of the right hon. Gentleman's proposal. For his own part, he disliked ten thousand times more than doing away with church rates the machinery which the right hon. Gentleman had most ingeniously contrived to sow discontent, disunion, and heartburning throughout the parishes of the country. He hoped, therefore, that the hon. Member would persevere in his Motion for the adjournment.


said, he was at a loss to know the reason for pressing the Motion for the second reading of this Bill, when it was evident that neither of the Bills on the subject of church rates could pass this Session. Only those who desired total abolition would gain by this measure, which, in fact, he regarded as the worse proposal of the two.


said, the Bill, on the back of which his name appeared, would not be forced, and he trusted that the right hon. Member for South Lancashire would rest satisfied with what progress he had already attained, and would not press his measure further during the present Session.


said, he regretted the tone which the right hon. Gentleman opposite had adopted on that occasion, and must say, after the prolonged sittings they had had that day, he thought the proposal to adjourn that debate at a quarter to one o'clock was a very reasonable one. The second reading of the Bill had been moved at four or five o'clock on a Wednesday afternoon. The discussion had been resumed at five minutes past twelve o'clock last night, and yet the right hon. Gentleman contended that it was the duty of the Government to terminate the discussion. [Mr. GLADSTONE: To let it go on.] At a quarter past one! The right hon. Gentleman should recollect that the Government even now had not moved the adjournment of the House. It was proposed by an independent Member, and he appealed to both sides of the House whether, after the speech of the right hon. Member (Mr. Henley), the Government could refuse to accept the proposal for the adjournment. The question was too important to be treated in this way, nor could it in this manner be discussed satisfactorily either to the House or to the country. With respect to the Bill of the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds, he would remind the House that the second reading had been already agreed to, and that the Committee was fixed for that morning. He could not, therefore, see that any inconvenience would result, the Bill of the hon. Member being taken at the morning sitting, from the debate being now adjourned. Apart from this, he had himself had no opportunity of expressing his opinion on the Bill; other Members of the Government were in the same position, and he must say it was one that had failed to satisfy the members of the Church of England, who had decidedly declared against it.


said, he wished to remind the noble Lord that no answer had been given to the Question of his right hon. Friend as to whether the Government would be prepared to afford facilities for the resumption of the debate on some future day. He must also call his attention to the fact that the Leader of the House had spoken on the second reading of the Bill, and had given a pledge to the effect that the Government would not vote against it.


said, that if, as he believed was the case, the Government were pledged through their Leader not to vote against the second reading of this Bill, that pledge would of course be redeemed. He understood, however, that his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, while making that promise, announced that he was not prepared to assent to the principle of the measure. For his own part, he could not assent to it, and he had only to add that he was afraid it would not be possible for the Government to set apart a day for resuming the discussion.


said, he should support the Motion for the adjournment of the debate, as the Bill was not like that for the total abolition of church rates which had already been frequently discussed. It was an entirely new and a very important measure, and it was not fair to ask hon. Members to proceed with it at that hour of the night, especially when it was taken into account that the House was to meet at twelve o'clock to-morrow, and that there was to be a morning sitting on the day after, as well as on Friday and Tuesday next. This being the case, he could only recommend the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill to take the best opportunity he could find of proceeding with it. As at present advised, he entertained to the Bill the most serious objection, and he could not see what the right hon. Gentleman hoped to gain by pressing on the second reading when he proposed not to go beyond that stage this Session.


said, that Wednesday, the 1st of August, was an open day, and his right hon. Friend would assent to the adjournment of the debate till that day.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Debate further adjourned till Wednesday next.