HC Deb 08 May 1866 vol 183 cc619-36

Sir, I rise to move for leave to bring in a Bill for the Abolition of Compulsory Church Rates. In doing so, I shall not have occasion to trouble the House at any length. It may be in the recollection of the House that during the debate on the second reading of the Bill for the Abolition of Church Rates, I presumed to offer certain suggestions which it appeared to me, from the state of opinion in the House and the kind of progress which had been made, if not towards a union, at any rate in the way of an approximation towards a union of sentiment, might possibly so far prevail as to offer the hope of a conclusion to a long and vexatious controversy. What followed in that debate made me believe it would be my duty to put these suggestions in the form of clauses; and by the kind aid of my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General I have been able to do so. When the suggestions which I had so laid before the House assumed the form of clauses they were submitted to my colleagues; and they were of opinion that if there was any fair prospect of these clauses meeting with—I will not say the unanimous approbation of this House—but with so large a share of approbation as that they would be likely to become the basis of a settlement, they should then be introduced as a Government measure. At the same time, it was far from the wish of the Government in coming to that conclusion to add to the subjects of protracted controversy which we have on our hands this Session. It is obvious that we are quite sufficiently charged with matters of that description, and in laying on the table of the House the Bill which I am about to ask for leave to introduce, anxious as we are to proceed with the measure, we must remind the House that our proceeding with it in the present state of public business must necessarily depend on the manner in which it is received, and on the pressure of the demands on our time which may be caused by more urgent and important subjects. However, I have communicated individually with Gentlemen on the other side of the House whose declared opinions on the subject appeared to make it proper that they should be informed of the course the Government proposed to take. I have communicated with my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke (Mr. Beresford Hope), who took a part in the debate on the second reading of the Bill to which I have referred, and whose language on that occasion was such as to lead to the hope that a settlement might be come to. I communicated also with my hon. Friend who introduced the Bill for the absolute abolition of Church Rates (Mr. Hardcastle), and likewise with another hon. Member whose absence from this House I deplore on personal as well as public grounds. I allude to Mr. Morley, in whose removal from Parliament I think we have experienced a serious loss, not only because of the respect in which he is held for his intelligence and his talents, but also on account of the singular manner in which it is given him to unite decided and pronounced opinions on those subjects which most interest Dissenters, with a character and mode of treatment essentially conciliatory, and a disposition never to enter into controversy, except for some real and vital object. Both my hon. Friends the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. Hardcastle) and Mr. Morley, after seeing and considering the clauses of my Bill, came to the conclusion that my proposition ought to be entertained, and after consultation with their friends, made a communication to me, the substance of which I understand to be this:—In a spirit of peace, in the disposition to sacrifice all that could consistently be sacrificed for peace, those who have been prosecuting the measure for the absolute abolition of church rates would accept this measure. Of course, I do not understand them to state that in the event of the failure of this attempt they would feel precluded from following up the object which originally they sought to attain. I could not understand or expect that by this concurrence on their part in offering a contribution to what they consider to be the cause of peace, they undertook to abandon their former line of action if what they believe to be the well-meant efforts of the Government should prove abortive. Having said so much as to the circumstances under which I bring this Bill forward, I will now state the nature of the clauses and the points in which they differ from the suggestions I made on the second reading of the Bill of my hon. Friend. The first clause provides that from and after the passing of this Act no suit shall be instituted or proceeding taken in any Ecclesiastical or other Court, or before any justice or magistrate, to enforce or compel the payment of any church rate in any parish or place in England or Wales. That provision will be the basis of the whole of the subsequent enactments. The second clause is one similar in its general aim to a clause in the Bill of the hon. Member for Bury. It provides for the payment of debts contracted on the security of the church rates to be levied under the system which now prevails. The third clause relates to the same subject. It provides that, notwithstanding anything in this Act, any church rate made at any time before its passing may be collected and recovered in the same way as if the Act had not been passed. The fourth clause provides that, notwithstanding anything in this Act, it shall be lawful in any parish wherein there shall be no sufficient trust fund or endowment adequate for the maintenance of the Church and churchyard and of the fabric and services—subject, however, to the disability named at the conclusion of the Act—for the parishioners to assess a voluntary rate upon the owners or occupiers of property within such parish for any purpose for which church rates may now lawfully be made. By Clause 5 it is provided that the inhabitant householders and occupiers of land within any ecclesiastical district, not being a parish, shall have a similar power. The provisions in these two clauses are not intended to introduce any element of compulsion, but merely to define the class of persons who may enter on a discussion or proceeding touching a voluntary rate, In Clause 6 there is a provision to the effect that on any discussion or difference of opinion with respect to a proposal for giving effect to the provisions for making a voluntary rate, if a poll be demanded, all the votes shall be taken in writing in a book or schedule having a heading, in which there shall be a statement that the persons voting are willing to pay their respective shares of such voluntary rate as may be determined upon by the majority of votes at the poll then being taken. The persons voting arc; to sign their names or marks in the book or schedule. I think it would not be correct to say that the provisions of this clause do, in fact, make the payment of the church rates compulsory. The next and most important clause is that which provides a compensation or counterpoise, if I may so call it, to the first provision of the Bill, abolishing the compulsory process. And here I will state the difference between the Bill as it stands and the suggestions on the subject which I tendered to the House on the occasion to which I have alluded. These suggestions were in two branches. One of them, which appeared to receive the universal and unqualified assent of the House, was that persons who did not think fit to take part in this process of supporting the Church services and the churchyard by a voluntary rate should likewise be excluded from taking part in any proceedings relating to the voluntary rate, or in offices connected with its distribution, or in questions which might arise from such distribution. That was so obviously rooted and grounded in the whole nature of the pro- posal that there did not appear to be the smallest difference on the subject. My hon. Friend the Member for Bury (Mr. Hardcastle), acting on behalf of those who are opposed to church rates, assured me that there was no feeling of jealousy with regard to the abandonment on their part of all title to interference with what would cease to be their affair, but that there was an anxiety among them to give effect to such provisions as contemplated the absence of such interference. But in the suggestions which I made there were one or two points of another description. I contemplated that, inasmuch as the so-called "accommodation" in the Church and in the churchyard would, under the Bill if it became law, be provided by the contributions of Churchmen only—I had better say by contributions payable only out of the voluntary rate—those who did not contribute ought to be made liable to an extra charge for any use they might be disposed to make of the accommodation obtained by means of that rate. I thought that in equity any just objection could not be taken to that proposition. And I am bound to say that no such objection would be taken on the part of those in whose interest, or by whose desire, the abolition of church rates has been particularly urged. But upon looking further into the matter there did appear to me to be something of an invidious character in any attempt to apply practically such provisions; and I was the more inclined to abandon them because those persons whom I consulted, and who might be supposed to contemplate the question from the point of view most sympathetic with the Established Church, were inclined to set no value upon them. I therefore willingly abandoned them, and no trace of them is to be found in the Bill—no extra demand for any accommodation which non-payers of the rate may be entitled by law to obtain either in the Church or churchyard will be found in this Bill. The clause which relates to the subject of disability is to this effect:—Those persons who either decline or neglect to pay the voluntary rate shall, after the lapse of a certain time, "be deemed to have elected to become, and shall be, disqualified and ineligible for the office of Churchwarden for ecclesiastical purposes." That is the first effect which non-participation in the voluntary rate shall have. But we have been careful to provide that such disability should not extend beyond its legitimate purpose. There are many functions now committed to the hands of Churchwardens by law from which it would be very invidious and unwarrantable to attempt to exclude persons not contributing to the church rate. The whole matter of parish charities is an example, because it is one in which the greatest interest would be naturally felt. The whole of the duties of Churchwardens, with the single exception of the disposal of church rates and the proceedings connected with them, will remain untouched by the Bill, and consequently we have the expression here used, "for ecclesiastical purposes," inasmuch as in every parish where the voluntary rate does not include the whole of the community there would be a Churchwarden, by a distinct election of the inhabitants of the parish, who would be authorized and empowered to discharge all the other duties connected with the office of Churchwarden. The clause went on to say, that the person not contributing would not Be entitled to vote at any meeting of the parishioners or inhabitants in vestry assembled of the said parish or district upon any question relating solely to the election of any Churchwarden for ecclesiastical purposes, or of any chapel-warden, or to the repairs, re-building, ornaments, ministers, or services of the church of the said parish or district, or to the care or maintenance of the churchyard of the said parish or district, or to any voluntary rate assessed or proposed to be assessed for the purpose aforesaid upon the owners or occupiers of property within such parish or district under this Act, or to the application or disposal of any monies raised or to be raised by any such voluntary rate, and no such person shall be entitled to demand as of right that any seat or portion of the church be allotted, assigned, or appropriated to him by the Churchwardens. The only other material provision in that clause is that it shall be lawful for any persons who have declined to take part in the business of the voluntary rate upon change of mind at any period to pay or tender payment to the amount of any voluntary assessment made during the three years last preceding; and upon such payment he shall henceforth be entitled to all the powers with respect to voting and participating in the proceedings with respect to church rates, as if he had voluntarily paid from the beginning his share of the assessment. There is, I think, nothing else material in the Bill, except a definition necessary for the special purpose of the measure, on account of the division of duties in consequence of the two kinds of Churchwardens. This Bill will, I hope, be in the hands of Mem- bers to-morrow morning; but, nevertheless, owing to the great interest felt in the subject, I thought it desirable to state its substantial provisions to the House, and at once call attention to the important, though I think beneficial, changes introduced into it, as compared with the original suggestions which I offered in the church rate debate on which the Bill was founded. I abstain on the present occasion—and I think the House will approve my doing so—from all argument on the subject. I confine myself to placing those provisions in the hands of the House. My desire is that the Bill should assume in a subsequent stage as little as possible of a controversial character. It is an offering made in the spirit of peace—an offering accepted, on the authority of the hon. Member for Bury, by a very large portion of those who have been engaged in this controversy, and, being made in the spirit of peace, I sincerely trust that the attainment of peace may be its destined end.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That leave be given to bring in a Bill for the abolition of Compulsory Church Rates."—(Mr.Chancellor of the Exchequer.)


said, he believed the right hon. Gentleman was sincerely endeavouring to reconcile that which had been the subject of controversy for so many years, and as a member of the Church of England, felt grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for the attempt. It was his intention to postpone to the 30th of this month the Bill which he had himself brought in, so that it might stand after the measure introduced by the right hon. Gentleman. Such a proceeding on his part was nothing more than was due to this intervention of Her Majesty's Government to settle the question. Having considered the subject, however, for many years, he feared that there was danger in the proposal of the right hon. Gentleman. He feared that, by this proposal, a minority in a parish might acquire power to sanction a manner of conducting the services of the Church which was disagreeable and offensive to the majority; and that the means of introducing variations of the services in the different parishes would be obtained. One argument in favour of church rate3 among Churchmen was this—that if a congregation disapproved the manner in which the services were conducted, they had the remedy in their hands by withholding the rate. This Bill would considerably impair that power. He deprecated anything which would encourage variations in the service of the Church, and also the domination of a minority over the majority of a parish,


thanked the. Chancellor of the Exchequer for the excellent spirit in which he had subordinated political feeling at this anxious time to a desire to settle this long vexed question He would enter into the scheme with the utmost desire to see in it some settlement based upon the release of those who for any reason did not wish to pay church rates. A short time ago he made a similar suggestion himself by recommending the insertion of the word "conscientious," so that relief might be given to all, whether Churchmen or Dissenters, who did not wish to pay the rate. That was the early policy of the "Exemptionist" party. As, however, the chief obstacle to a settlement on exemption principles was the objection of Nonconformists to what they called "ticketting," which they thought involved in the term conscientious, he no longer pressed it. With regard to the Bill of his hon. Friend, he must strongly and clearly insist on one consideration. He hoped that after the persons who did not wish to pay church rates had absented themselves, and those who wished to pay had assembled in the vestry, the church rates should, as much as possible, minus the Courts of Law, assume the same character which church rates used formerly to bear—in other words, that, while there should be no bias beforehand to compel people to pay church rates, there should afterwards he no bias the other way, no attempt to force out of their old way those who chose to pay them as they had heretofore done. In describing the purport of the 4th clause, the Chancellor of the Exchequer had stated that the new form of rate would come into operation in parishes in which no other "sufficient" provision existed for the sustentation of the Church. Now, was not such a hint so thrown out almost a pledge from the Government to take into consideration what ought to be a sufficient provision; and did it not give the House an opportunity of striving to amend the unjust laws which the jealousy of the last generation had imposed upon the liberality of persons who were willing to devote a portion of their substance to religious purposes? He referred to the series of laws commonly known as the Mortmain Acts. All were aware of the absurd excitement which was raised by Alderman Guy's foundation of the hospital that had been such a benefit to London, which had led to the last and worst of those laws; but had not the time now come when the desirability of relaxing them might be taken into consideration for the benefit of Nonconformity as well as of the Church? In his opinion, no relaxation of the church rate law would be complete without a consideration of this question, more especially as Parliament would, if it passed this Bill, recognize the desirability of a sufficient substitute for church rates being provided. Would not that recognition be barren of results unless means were given of easily providing such a substitute? There were the Exchequer Loan Fund, for instance, and certain societies chartered by Act of Parliament to advance money upon land for good and profitable objects, and he would suggest that some provision might be made under which a proprietor of land—whether he was tenant in fee or tenant for life—might borrow money from the Exchequer Loan Fund or some other society, and place it in the hands of trustees for the benefit of the church of the parish within which the land was situated, such land being declared for ever free from church rates. Such a mode of procedure would have an advantage over the method of saddling the land with a rent-charge for ever, because the land might afterwards pass into the hands of persons holding different religious opinions, and something analogous to the church rate grievance might in such an event arise. If, however, the money were settled upon trustees, it would belong for ever to the Church, while the land would for ever be free from church rates. Such a system, if it were to be generally adopted, he believed afforded the best solution of the church rate question, because it would give a sufficient amount to carry out the objects for which church rates at present existed. In conclusion, he begged to thank the right hon. Gentleman for bringing in this Bill, and to express a hope that a long day would be given before the second reading in order that the country at large, the clergy in particular, who were so interested in it, as well as Churchmen and general Dissenters, might have time to read and digest its provisions.


thought it was a matter of congratulation that this proposal had been recognized on both sides of the House as one likely to settle this long and much-vexed question. He believed there would be a general disposition upon both sides of the House to accept the measure proposed by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. He wished, however, to ask the right hon. Gentleman a question. A parish in the borough which he represented (Sunderland) had an Act of its own under which the church rate was levied, and he wanted to know whether this Bill would supersede and override not only the general law of the land but also a special Act such as he had referred to?


said, that if the right hon. Gentleman had introduced this Bill, and the debate had then terminated, he probably should not have presumed to say anything on the subject; but after what had fallen from the last speaker (Mr. Candlish), he thought it incumbent upon him to say, on the part of some hon. Gentlemen, at any rate, on that side of the House, that they were not at present disposed to accept the statement of the hon. Gentleman that the measure met the views of those who took the side of the Church in regard to this question. The hon. Gentleman seemed to assume that the measure would necessarily receive the support of Gentlemen who sat upon that side of the House. Now, he rose for the purpose of saying that, as far as he could form an opinion from the statement of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, he did not think the measure would be regarded on the Opposition side of the House as a satisfactory compromise of the question. Of course, he said that with great reserve, for he had not yet seen the measure, and was only speaking on the first impression derived from the right hon. Gentleman's statement. The right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer had terminated his short speech with a sentiment in which he was sure every Gentleman on that side of the House would join. The right hon. Gentleman said that he proposed this measure in the interests of peace, and that he trusted peace would be the result of it. All must concur in that wish; but he would remind the right hon. Gentleman that peace might be obtained in two ways—namely, by capitulation and by compromise. He had not had the advantage of seeing the draught of the Bill, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer had informed the House that the measure had been accepted by Mr. Morley, upon whom the right hon. Gentleman passed a high, and, doubtless, well deserved eulogium. He had, however, had the advantage of reading yesterday a speech de- livered by Mr. Miall on this question. Whether Mr. Miall had seen the draught of the Bill he could not, of course, say, but that Gentleman seemed to have no hesitation whatever as to the course which he and his friends would take in reference to this measure. Mr. Miall accepted the Bill as a settlement which was entirely satisfactory to the Liberation Society, and told Churchmen that if they chose to regard it as a "compromise he would not quarrel with them about the phrase, though he reminded them that the whole of the substantial fruits of victory remained with the Liberation Society. That being the deliberate opinion of Mr. Miall, be was not surprised to hear that Mr. Morley, and the hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury St. Edmunds (Mr. Hardcastle), had accepted the measure; If his fears were correct, it would bring about a peace of which they who had hitherto maintained church rates would have no cause to be proud. He would not prolong the discussion, but he wished at that stage of the proceedings to protest against the assumption that hon. Gentlemen sitting on that side of the House would be obliged to support the measure. He greatly feared, indeed, it would turn out to be a measure which, while keeping up some semblance of the church rate, would in reality destroy the whole substance of it.


said, he agreed with the noble Lord (Lord John Manners) that this was not a compromise, as it abolished church rates in the only form in which they were recognized and could be enforced by law. If he were a Dissenter, he should say this was not a compromise of the question, but the winning of it. As a Churchman, however, he must express his regret not that church rates were to be abolished, at which he rejoiced, but that they were to be abolished in the particular form proposed by this Bill. Church rates, as they have hitherto existed, had, at all events, one advantage—they compelled every man, according to his pecuniary ability, to subscribe towards the maintenance of the Church. The abolition of church rates would throw the burden of the maintenance of the Church exclusively on the friends of the Church; they would have to support it by voluntary contributions, and that would be the result of voluntary church rates. It was now proposed to abolish church rates by a Bill which set up an apparatus that would present to the minds of the people the idea that they were still maintaining the church by a rate, while the Bill absolutely locked the door of every court into which a person could go to enforce a rate. No matter whether it was sought to do so under a local Act or under the general law, all courts were to be closed. The Dissenters did right to rejoice at this arrangement if it were right that there should be no church rate; but what of the Church people? The hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Beresford Hope) rejoiced; and hon. Members on both sides of the House accepted the proposal as one made in a spirit of compromise; but where was the benefit of this supposed compromise? The Dissenters were relieved by the Bill from the payment of church rates; everybody who did not want to pay them, whether Dissenter or not, was relieved, and had a right to rejoice; but who was benefited? Suppose it passed—what was done Instead of a single clause Bill abolishing church rates, we had a Bill which kept up the form of compulsion without its force. We lost all the advantage of the compulsory, such as it was, rate, and he could not see that we gained anything. This was the objection which, on the part of the Church, he felt to this sort of compromise. For years he had advocated a compromise, but one of a different form. He had said that the maintenance of the fabric, as a public building, might be thrown upon a public rate, and the expense of the worship on the worshippers. That would be a real compromise of the church rate question; but this was not a compromise—the whole tax was abolished and abandoned; but it was thought necessary and desirable to keep up the form of compulsion when the force was gone, and to keep up the name of a rate when the thing itself was abandoned. To this scheme he, as a Churchman, totally objected. A vestry was a meeting of rated inhabitants; but now it would become a meeting of subscribers; and what, therefore, was the use of passing a Bill of many clauses to enable the friends of the Church to do what they could do equally well without an Act of Parliament—namely, to meet together and make a subscription? No doubt the Chancellor of the Exchequer earnestly desired to effect a compromise; but the real truth was church rates were abandoned and Dissenters had won the whole battle. For the sake of the Church, he rejoiced at that result, but he wished Church people would agree with him in thinking that the form of compulsion should not be kept up when the force was gone. By such a scheme they would keep none of the advantages and yet retain all the disadvantages of a rate; they would have a thing called a rate which would be no rate at all, which there would be no power to enforce, and which would be nothing but a subscription. Still worse would it be if the hon. Member for Stoke could carry out his plan, have the laws of Mortmain repealed, and have an immense sum raised to endow the Church, and pay all its expenses; the Church would die. It lived by the voluntary efforts of its friends and supporters; and in proportion as it was endowed and its expenses met by payment in advance, secured in the funds or in any other way, in that proportion would its energy and force be diminished. The hon. Member for Stoke ought to know this as well as any one, for there was no more liberal friend of the Church, and he should have a deep conviction that in proportion as the voluntary liberality and energy of Church people were roused on the part of the Church was the Church living and doing good, making great efforts and doing its work; while in proportion as you stifled its energies by endowment and the ostentatious employment or, as in this Bill, the pretence of legal force, you destroyed the Church. That was the reason he objected to the retention of useless and mischievous forms by the Bill, as abolishing a compulsory church rate, and so far as it did that, he heartily approved of the measure; but as an attempt to make a voluntary subscription look coercive, and to give to spontaneous liberality the aspect of a tax, he totally objected to its provisions.


Of course, it is premature to discuss now the proposals which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has submitted; but I must express my dissent from the observations made by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Mr. Thomas Chambers.) He says that, on the part of the Church, he looks with apprehension on the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I am rather inclined to concur with the remarks of the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Beresford Hope.) I care not whether the Liberation Society, or any other society, has been working for the abolition of church rates. I think the House will concur with the hon. Member for Stoke in looking upon the proposals of the Chancellor of the Exche- quer as proposals made in a spirit of conciliation, with the view of promoting the common object all must have in view—the settlement of this long-vexed question. For ten or twelve years I have invariably voted against all Bills introduced by a private Member for the abolition of church rates:—I have always maintained it to be the duty of the Government to take up the question and that it would be in vain for any private Member to attempt to settle it. Now my right hon. Friend has submitted a Bill and I cordially approve the course he has taken; and I trust the House will support him in the object he has in view. In the borough I represent we have' had a most painful church rate case. Although I am a strong Churchman, I have felt that nothing could be more odious—nothing could give rise to worse feelings than the case I allude to, in which a Roman Catholic was called upon to contribute a few pence or a few shillings to the Established Church. I discourage to the utmost of my power legal proceedings to enforce payment of church rates. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Marylebone has said that the Courts of Law will be closed against any attempt to enforce payment. I rejoice at it. I may say that nearly £2,000 has been spent in prosecuting the gentleman I have named, a tenant farmer, because, as a Roman Catholic, he conscientiously refused to contribute to the maintenance of the Church of England in Tamworth. Before the right hon. Gentleman answers the question which has been put, I wish to ask whether, if a Dissenter does not pay church rates, he can, in a country parish, claim, as a right, interment for his family in the churchyard of the parish church. [The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER intimated assent.] I think that unless a person contributes to the maintenance of the churchyard of the parish he ought to have no claim whatever to bury members of his family there. [Expression of dissent.] Well, that is my opinion; but there may be differences of opinion on the subject. I merely wish to ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer whether a Dissenter would claim a right to bury, because I think it open to objection that unless a person has contributed steadily—say for three years—to the maintenance of the Church and churchyard, he should have a claim to bury his family in the parish churchyard. I rose also to express my concurrence with the hon. Member for Stoke, and to thank the Chancellor of the Exchequer cordially for undertaking the settlement of a question of this character, which will put an end to that unhappy strife which has occurred in too many places, will do more than almost any other measure could do for the peace of the country districts, and will save them from the heart burnings that church rate cases have occasioned. I do hope that the House will accept this measure in the spirit in which the Chancellor of the Exchequer has submitted it, and that the Bill will be carried successfully through all its stages.


regretted that the noble Lord the Member for North Leicestershire (Lord John Manners) should have introduced the word "victory" in reference to this subject, having hoped that no victory would be spoken of but that of justice and peace; for, while the measure was one of simple justice, and Churchmen would sacrifice but a small amount by the abolition of the rate, it would bring the Church an amount of peace, independence, and vigour of action which would be of immeasurably more value than all she resigned. The Bill would remove the double injustice of requiring Dissenters, under the name of religion, to pay a compulsory rate, which was contrary to their principles, and also to pay for the maintenance of a form of worship of which they did not approve, while they maintained that of which they did approve; and this injustice could not be removed without the Church reaping fruit in the accession of valuable strength. He was confident that the Church would raise more voluntarily than she had done by church rates. If the Bill were carried, there would be no attempt on the part of Dissenters to interfere with the administration of the funds to be raised by the Church under its provisions: such interference would be an impertinence and an injustice, and he would discourage it to the utmost. He really did not understand the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Marylebone (Mr. Chambers), because if the courts were closed against the enforcement of a rate the form of compulsion would no longer exist. It was, indeed, possible that in some places a kind of moral compulsion might be attempted; but he hoped it would not be so, and it would certainly be known even in the remotest village that legal compulsion no longer existed. He could not help thinking the suggestion of his right hon. Friend (Sir Robert Peel), with reference to the exclusion of Dissenters from burying in the churchyards, was not consistent with his generous and liberal nature. [Sir ROBERT PEEL: I only asked the question.] He begged the right hon. Gentleman's pardon—he had understood him to suggest that they should not be buried there. He joined with those members of the Establishment who had spoken in favour of this proposal in hoping that a measure of real justice and universal peace would be carried in the spirit in which it had been introduced by the right hon. Gentleman.


felt grateful to the Dissenting body, so far as it was represented in that House, for the very handsome manner in which, as it appeared to him, they had met this question. But he merely rose to put a question to his right hon. Friend. He understood him to say that the Bill provided for the continuance of existing engagements where churches had been rebuilt and expenses incurred on the security of rates. The main difficulty would fall on the country clergy; but he knew that many of these looked forward to this settlement with hope and thankfulness. The question he wished to put to his right hon. Friend related to prospective engagements, whether there was anything in the Bill inconsistent with some such arrangement as this—where it was necessary to rebuild the church of a country parish, that the parishioners assembled in vestry should concur in rebuilding it, and that possessors of landed property, in conjunction with the next in succession to the entail, might charge their estates temporarily with a certain amount for the purpose of rebuilding such a church; and also whether it would be competent to the vestry to raise money for that purpose on the security of a voluntary rate?


asked, whether the Chancellor of the Exchequer could not also embody in the Bill a clause for the abolition of the compulsory payment of certain Ecclesiastical dues, such as visitation fees, synod fees, and sundry other charges for which Churchwardens were personally liable?


asked, if the Bill was only applicable to rates for the Church of an Ecclesiastical district or to the rates for the mother Church as well?


I have to answer very briefly the questions which have been put to me. I must, in the first place, say I have not the same horror of shutting up any description of Court that seems to be entertained by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Marylebone. My hon. Friend the Member for North Devon (Mr. Akland), asked whether it would be provided in the Bill that charges already imposed by local Acts should not be affected by the scope of the Bill? That certainly was the intention of the Bill, and I hope its language will be found to cover such cases. My right hon. Friend the Member for Tamworth (Sir Robert Peel), for whose cordially expressed support of the measure I feel very grateful, asked whether Dissenters and their families, not paying church rates, would continue to be entitled to interment in the churchyard? The answer is, that there is no disability created by this Bill of any kind, except such as are expressly cited and set forth in the Bill—namely, those relating to the power of taking a part in the management of the rate, in the election of Churchwardens, and in the title to demand an assignment of seats in the Church; in no other respect is any right now existing touched by the Bill. The hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Cubitt) asked whether a double rate would be levied in Ecclesiastical districts and for the mother Church? I certainly believe that in the processes contemplated by the Bill no levying of a double rate will take place. The hon. Gentleman behind me (Mr. Akland) asks whether the Bill contains any provision to enable possessors of landed property, or the persons having life interest in such property, together with the heir of entail, to charge their lands temporarily for purposes connected with the re-building of the church? There are no such clauses in the Bill. I see no objection in principle to give powers of that nature, but I confess I have considerable doubt whether it would be entirely akin to the object of the Bill. It would certainly raise a number of separate issues entirely different from the main issue, and would be much better dealt with in a separate form. The hon. Member for Norfolk (Mr. Read) has asked whether it would not he possible to abolish the fees paid by the Churchwardens at visitations? but I apprehend that the Churchwarden is at present authorized to charge these fees upon the church rate, and the consequence will be that these fees will be paid like all other charges provided by the Bill to be paid out of the rate.


I wish to suggest that in this Bill an end should be put to another imposition which I think is much less justifiable than what are called church rates, and much more offensive, and that is the collection of what are called Easter dues. In a portion of Lancashire there have been proceedings of a most offensive character carried on against persons who refused to pay those dues, and dues of the smallest amount, of a penny, or twopence, or threepence from each house. And these dues are not levied by a vote of the parish, but at the will of a clergyman of the parish, and on that account I think they are more offensive than church rates themselves. It seems to me a pity that some clauses should not be introduced for abolishing Easter dues into a Bill the object of which is to abolish church dues. I give no opinion at present on the Bill itself or its details, because I did not know anything of its provisions until I came into the House this evening; but surely if gentlemen outside, to whom reference has been made, who have been charged with conducting the agitation against church rates are satisfied with the Bill, it is not very likely that I should take it upon myself to express any discontent with it.

Motion agreed to.

Bill for the abolition of compulsory Church Rates, ordered to be brought in by Mr. CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER, Sir GEORGE GREY, Mr. MILNER GIBSON, and Mr. ATTORNEY GENERAL.

Bill presented, and read the first time. [Bill 143.]