HC Deb 19 February 1868 vol 190 cc957-82

Order for Second Reading read.


I rise, Sir, to move the second reading of the Compulsory Church Rates Abolition Bill; and as some considerable time has elapsed since this measure was introduced to the consideration of the House, perhaps I may be allowed to occupy a few minutes in giving a very simple description—and, as far as I can make it, not a polemical description—of its views and objects, and likewise of its position as a Parliamentary question. The hope with which this Bill was originally framed and introduced, and which I still cherish with no less cheerful a tone than that which I first entertained, was that we might by means of a measure of this kind procure—I will not say unanimity, or anything nearly approaching unanimity—upon a question of this description, which has been so long and so much controverted, but at all events such a concurrence of opinion as would give strong effect to the views and decision of the House of Commons, and as would promise the early settlement of the question, if not with universal, yet with general satisfaction. I thought that, as regarded those who may be called the church-rate abolitionists pure and simple, we should find upon their part a disposition to abate somewhat of the full purpose which they had had in view—at any rate to this extent, that we should fairly try the temper and opinion of the House of Commons upon a Bill of this nature. On the other hand, I likewise thought and hoped—and that hope had not been disappointed—that no inconsiderable number of Gentlemen sitting upon the opposite side of the House would, under the extreme difficulty of the case, be disposed to come some considerable way to meet us, and to adopt a measure of this kind as affording on the whole a satisfactory solution. In the course of a discussion which took place in the House, in the year 1866, there were two Members, if I remember rightly, Gentlemen of station and influence in the House, who declared that they would prefer a measure of total abolition to such a measure as that which is now upon the table. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) was one of those two Members. Well, I believe the choice is now before them—because it is quite evident that a Bill of this kind cannot be the object of prolonged contention from year to year. I could not expect of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury (Mr. Hardcastle), and of the large party, so to call them, whom upon this question he has so consistently and so ably represented, that they should abandon their own controversy for church rate abolition, with the prosecution and the attainment of their entire object in view, in order to launch themselves into another prolonged contest for a minor and a more limited purpose. All that I could ask of him and of those for whom he acts is, that they should make a fair experiment for the purpose of ascertaining the judgment of the House of Commons as to the practicability of settling this question by a measure of this kind; and if it should appear that there exists very largely upon the other side of the House a disposition to prefer total abolitition, why, no doubt, the majority of those who sit upon this side would also prefer total abolition. The consequence, therefore, of that declaration and of that state of sentiment would be that any scheme of this kind must very speedily pass out of view; while it was left to others to judge whether any consummation of the question except total abolition should be the one finally adopted. I must take this opportunity of rendering my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury for his willingness to make what he thinks a considerable abatement of his views for the sake of obtaining a wide if not a general support in this House, including no inconsiderable element of favour and approval from the opposite side. I must likewise express my strong sense of the liberal and conciliatory spirit in which—as I know from private and personal communications—many Gentlemen on the other side of the House have expressed their disposition to enter frankly on the consideration of the details of this Bill, with the view of making it, if possible, the basis of a legislative settlement of the question. It is therefore to be understood that this Bill may, at least so far as I am concerned, be treated in a manner the reverse of polemical. It is intended to make a fair trial of the judgment of the House. I have every reason to believe that, with the dispositions that have been shown, it may be accepted; but should I have formed a false estimate of the temper and spirit of the House, I certainly shall no longer attempt to worry either the one side or the other by putting before them modes of arrangement which I myself may think practicable, but shall leave my hon. Friend the Member for Bury to resume the position, without fetter or restraint, which he so long and so worthily occupied. What this Bill offers to Dissenters, as I take the matter, is the total and absolute abolition of the principle of compulsion; and it is for the sake of the attainment of that total and absolute abolition of the principle of compulsion that my hon. Friend the Member for Bury and those who act with him—my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Hadfield) and others—have felt themselves justified in substituting this Bill pro tanto, and for the time, for the measure of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury. An idea has gone abroad that in the 5th and 6th clauses of the Bill, as they now stand, there has been a deviation from the view with which it was introduced, and a partial re-introduction of the principle of compulsion. I am very desirous to explain—not presuming myself to give any legal opinion, yet with the belief that I do not misrepresent the legal view of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer)—I am very desirous to explain that there is no foundation whatever for that idea. As far as the Bill has undergone change since it was first introduced, it has undergone change, I admit, in the sense of my hon. Friend the Member for Bury. Some disabilities with which it was originally charged have been removed; and the disability has lastly been removed for serving the office of churchwarden, because on consideration we have felt that all we could reasonably ask of the House was, that those who subscribe to the fund under this Bill should have the management of the fund, and if they chose to appoint for that purpose a person who had not subscribed it is not our business to interfere with them. But as regards the 6th clause, I will not now enter into questions respecting its wording, which had better be reserved for the Committee on the Bill, and I will leave it to my hon. and learned Friend (Sir Roundell Palmer) to explain the legal effect of the phraseology. I may, however, state distinctly and unequivocally the object of the clause and the mode in which the necessity for such a provision has arisen. The object of the clause is to place the churchwarden or administrator of this voluntary fund, to which the name and form of a church rate are continued, in precisely that same position with respect to his personal liability as that which he would occupy if he were the treasurer of an association of persons combined for the maintenance of a dissenting chapel, or of an hospital, or of any other philanthropic institution whatever. The necessity for the clause arises out of the fact that the main enactment of the Bill is that contained in the first clause, which provides that no suit whatever shall lie in any Court for the purpose of enforcing or compelling the payment of a church rate made in any parish or place in England or Wales. Well, now, as I understand, if the treasurer, we will say, of a dissenting chapel—because that is perhaps the case most nearly analogous—has received from persons connected with the congregation, or others, the promise to subscribe certain sums for maintaining or improving the chapel, it is very doubtful what the legal position of those promises is so long as no proceedings have been taken upon the faith of them; but if upon the faith of these promises—they being definite and clear in their character—the treasurer has himself become liable by a contract for the payment of a certain sum, then he would undoubtedly be entitled in a Court of Equity to recover upon those promises the sums which had been engaged to be paid. We must, therefore, look to the fact that unless we introduce words to secure to the churchwarden in this particular case that power of recovery, he will be barred by the accidental and unintended operation of the words in the first clause of the Bill, which make it impossible to compel the payment of church rate, because the name and force of the rate would still be retained. The effect of the 6th clause, as I am advised, and, at any rate, its object, is to bring these payments, when the liability has been incurred for them, within the scope of the general law of contracts, and to provide that if they be promised on behalf of any voluntary institution, though they be promised in the name and form of church rates, they shall be contracts. That is, I hope, a clear and unequivocal explanation, showing that in principle and in aim these clauses are in entire consistency with the original purposes of the Bill; and with regard to the terms of expression, to which no specific objection has as yet been made, there will be every disposition on the part of my hon. and learned Friend (Sir Roundell Palmer) and myself to consider, if a change should be thought desirable, what other words can properly be substituted. I will now venture to state very briefly what, as I conceive, is the nature of the advantage this Bill will offer to persons connected with our parish churches as compared with the system of total abolition. There are many persons who are disposed to say that this is a compromise all upon one side, and that in abolishing compulsion you abolish church rates, and leave nothing which can be considered as an equivalent or a set-off against that abolition. That which I conceive to be an important advantage to be gained by this Bill is, that it will facilitate the extended use of a system which is even now more or less in use—namely, that system under which at the present moment—and even to my knowledge in certain cases in parishes of large population—the voluntary principle is substantially applied, and rates are levied without the smallest idea of resorting to the practice of compulsion. The Church and those connected with the parish church would, under this Bill have, I think, an undisturbed maintenance of their present methods of procedure in cases where the present methods of procedure give satisfaction to the population of the parish. Now I own I estimate myself as very considerable the value of that machinery. To town parishes and to populous parishes I admit the application of that opinion would be narrow and limited, because in those parishes it is not or ought not to be difficult to substitute a new machinery for the old one; but in the rural parishes where things go on from generation to generation with little change, where nearly all the ratepayers are agricultural occupiers, it seems to me that although the theoretical difference may be small the practical difference would be very great indeed, between a system which entirely and rudely shivered to fragments the existing machinery of church rates, and a system which leaves that machinery to operate, although upon a basis that is known and understood to be voluntary and free. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire observed with great truth, that although a church rate may be a just mea- sure of legal liability as between man and man—that is in certain cases, for I could not assent to the proposition universally—yet it is by no means in the same degree a just measure of their capacity for free and voluntary contribution. I think there is great truth in that observation. It is an observation of exceedingly limited application, however, in agricultural parishes. But my answer to the right hon. Gentleman would be this, that if the circumstances of the parish be such as to make the form of church rate an inconvenient method for obtaining the subscriptions necessary for the purpose of the church, the remedy under the Bill is obvious—namely, that some other form of subscription may be adopted, and yet still the machinery of the vestry and of the appointed officers—that is to say, the churchwardens—will be available for that purpose. Perhaps I may be told that is a slight matter; but in my opinion it is very far from being a slight matter, for what is the case now in many parishes where church rates are virtually abolished, and where, with the abolition of the compulsory rate, the use of the old parochial machinery has disappeared? Why, in my opinion, one very great practical evil results, and it is that the secular business of obtaining funds for the maintenance of the fabric and the services of the church devolves in too many instances upon the already overburdened clergyman, and tends to make him in a still greater degree that which I own I think he is now in a degree much greater than is desirable—namely, a person drawn off from his spiritual duties by the absolute and stringent necessity of many occupations, which, however useful, are temporal in their character. I hold, therefore, that not only after the compulsory payment of church rates has been abolished, but even after it has been found that the form of church rate is inconvenient—namely, in the case contemplated by the right hon. Gentleman, still it will be a great advantage that there should be a vestry and churchwardens to whom the clergyman would be entitled to look to bear these liabilities, and that he should not be subject to that great practical evil—acting in the first instance upon him, and through him upon the parishioners at large—of having his hands weakened for spiritual purposes in order that he may discharge duties of a very essential nature, but still not spiritual, but temporal in their character. Now, I think that upon the whole I may go one step further than that, and say without treading upon any ground where differences of opinion, or, at any rate, differences of feeling, are likely to arise, that I contemplate with very great dissatisfaction whatever tends to disjoin the action of the clergyman, whether in the management of his church or in the management of his parish, from the counsel, the affection, the good will, and the approval of the laity; and that, I think, it a great advantage, instead of running the risk of driving the clergyman into a personal action with reference to the fabric of the Church, which, I fear, might be the effect in many parishes of total abolition, that you should leave him in contact with his parishioners, and allow them to assemble in a lawful, usual, and prescriptive manner, with reference to everything, that belongs to the attainment of these purposes. I have now, I think, sufficiently stated to the House the general views with which this Bill has been introduced, and my purpose in desiring to know, from what may take place upon the present occasion, and in the Committee on the Bill, whether the House is inclined to entertain it with a still larger amount of assent than that very large amount which my hon. Friend the Member for Bury has succeeded in obtaining for his more unrestricted measure. I will only make two further observations. In the first place, it is not the principle of the church rate that is now at issue, either upon this Bill or upon the Bill of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Mr. Hubbard). The principle of a church rate is, that as the fabric of the Church is intended for the benefit of the entire community, the entire community should be liable to its maintenance, and in like manner to the continuance of the services of the Church. It is not necessary to enter upon any argument with respect to that principle at a time when apparently the vast majority of the Members sitting on both sides of the House are not prepared to entertain it. But with reference to those who think that the surrender of that principle is in all cases likely to be either fatal or injurious to the existence of the National Establishment of religion, I hope I may be permitted to express this opinion, that unless the sore place of the vestry-cess in Ireland had been healed and closed up some thirty-five years ago by the resolute action of Lord Derby, when he, by the Church Temporalities Act, destroyed the principle of a Church Establishment for Ireland—so far as that principle is involved in a rate for the maintenance of the fabric and for the services—it is highly probable that the Irish Church Establishment would not be in existence at this moment. Whether that is a recommendation or not of this method of proceeding, it is not necessary for me at the present moment to inquire. But speaking in the face of my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield (Mr. Hadfield), I own my personal opinion is that for all practical purposes the Church of England would be greatly—not weakened, but strengthened and confirmed, by removing wholly out of action and out of view all petty causes of irritation and disaffection, such as those which arise from time to time in the attempt to administer the law of church rates. I have endeavoured to state thus generally the purposes with which this Bill is offered to the House. I assure the House that it is not intended, as far as I am concerned, to be made an instrument for annoying or bewildering them with the multitude of recipes and remedies of different doctors prescribing for this inveterate and complicated disease. I wish to make a fair trial of the judgment of this House; and if the judgment of the House should, as I hope, be given by a large and preponderating expression of its sense in favour of a measure of this kind, I feel sure that obstacles to its success will not be raised elsewhere; but that the wisdom and the prudence which have so often governed the settlement of these matters will prevail, and that the Bill will become the means of effecting an early and, on the whole, a satisfactory termination of a too long protracted controversy.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Gladstone.)


said, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire had very fairly explained the objects of the Bill, and he had to thank the right hon. Gentleman for setting in such a clear light many of the objections which he (Mr. Henley) had to the measure. The right hon. Gentleman had stated with great truth that his own Bill and that of the hon. Member opposite (Mr. Hardcastle) were identical, so far as the doing away with church rates was concerned. He (Mr. Henley) would not touch upon that question, because with respect to that point his objection to both Bills was precisely similar. He would confine himself to an examination of the other part of the right hon. Gentleman's Bill to see whether it would mitigate in any and in what degree the inconveniences of total abolition. He would state to the House why the provisions of the Bill now under consideration would, in his judgment, not only not mitigate these inconveniences, but would in reality throw difficulties in the way of such a mitigation. He would further give his reasons for thinking that the measure, instead of affording facilities for the establishment of a voluntary system would throw considerable difficulties in the way to such a consummation. The right hon. Gentleman had very fairly said that, in respect to the question of assessment, according to the present valuation, there might be cases where the law acted unjustly; but with a view to guard against that he desired to establish a mode of voluntary subscription. Such a system could of course be carried on according to the will of every one, and each could give what he pleased, and in that respect the objections might be got rid of. But he would ask the House what advantage would this Bill bestow, or in what better position would those persons be who desired voluntarily to subscribe than they would be without such a Bill? That was the real question which the right hon. Gentleman had to prove affirmatively. If people were not to be placed in a better position by reason of this measure than they would be without it there was no use for its introduction—it was clearly surplusage. He agreed that it was desirable that the parochial clergy or the clergy elsewhere should be relieved from the necessity and, it may be, the anxiety of maintaining the fabric of the Church. But it seemed rather odd to him that the right hon. Gentleman, entertaining that strong opinion, should propose to abolish church-rates, and thus aggravate the evil he deprecates. Let them look, however, to what the machinery of the Bill provided, and what advantage or disadvantage would be given to people who came forward to subscribe or submitted to a voluntary assessment. Voluntary rates were not unknown. When the amended Poor Law first came into operation many of the rural parishes voluntarily levied rates upon themselves for the relief of the poor. Voluntary rates in that way became quite common, and there was no difficulty in the way of their working. No Act of Parliament was required to regulate these rates, and no trouble or complaint arose out of them: and people simply paid their proportion for the relief of the poor. But what had the right hon. Gentleman fastened upon this Bill? What did he do in order to induce people to become voluntary subscribers and assent to a voluntary assessment? He said that if any person did not pay after they had subscribed they should have the pleasure of going into the Court of Chancery. Was that a recommendation to induce persons to become subscribers, or would it not rather scare people from putting down their names to the subscription document; for every one of the subscribers must be made members to the suit. Was the example of the Nonconformists, who had occasionally suits in Chancery, an example or inducement to them to put their names to a paper by means of which, should they fail to pay, they might be involved in legal proceedings? Such a contingency would surely act rather as a preventive than an incentive to persons in the way of making them become subscribers. The right hon. Gentleman had stated no reason whatever why they would not be just as well able to accomplish what he desired as well without as with the machinery of an Act of Parliament, and surely if a man wished to subscribe he could give his money to a churchwarden or treasurer quite as well without this machinery as with it. The Court of Chancery in perspective would, as he had said, scare people. For himself, he would never put his name to a paper which might be the means of dragging him into the Court of Chancery, out of which he might never get in his life. That he conceived would also be the feeling of everyone throughout the country. The statement of the right hon. Gentleman was quite distinct—that the remedy would lie in the Court of Chancery. Only one prospect could have been more disagreeable, and that was the risk of being dragged into the Ecclesiastical Court. Of the two evils he did not know which would be worse; but for either to be dangled before a man's eyes, in the event of A or B not paying, would certainly prevent his putting his name on paper. He rejected this Bill in the first place, because it advocated total abolition; and in the second place, because if they were to achieve the end desired by voluntary means, every parish had sense enough to make its own arrangements, without the cumbrous machinery of an Act of Parliament to aid them. He should certainly vote against the second reading of the Bill.


tendered his cordial thanks to the right hon. Member for South Lancashire for introducing the Bill. He (Mr. Gilpin) would support the measure in all its stages, in the hope that when it got into Committee the provisions of the sixth clause would be very considerably modified, if not altogether altered. He thought the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire was perfectly right when he said that members of the Church of England would be far more able and willing to subscribe for their own worship voluntarily than by means of compulsion. When subscriptions were made among dissenting bodies no such thing was known as the tipstaff, the constable, or the threat of Chancery proceedings, in order to compel the payment of money that had been voluntarily promised. He did not conceive that the object of getting rid of church rates was the paltry £230,000 a year, but it was to relieve all places that were now subject to them from a bone of contention, from the heartburning, and the bitterness which they occasioned. He acknowledged the readiness with which the right hon. Member for South Lancashire had met the views of many who went much farther than himself, and he would accept the Bill as a compromise between the two sides of the House. They had the acknowledgment of the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire that he would rather have a Bill for the total abolition of church rates. If hon. Gentlemen opposite were generally of that opinion, then, by all means, let the House again, by a large majority, sanction the Bill of his hon. Friend the Member for Bury.


said, that no man had more consistently opposed the total abolition of church rates than himself, and he had long looked forward to the introduction of a measure which would have afforded a fair and equitable settlement. Many Bills had been introduced, which had been opposed by the Gentlemen opposite. He could, however, no longer disguise from himself that the time, if not quite ripe, had now nearly come when the House, in justice to itself and the country in general, should make an effort to have this question satisfactorily settled. Although he could not agree to all the provisions of the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman, he thought there was sufficient in it to enable him honestly to say that the Bill should be read a second time. Should that be done, when the measure went into Com- mittee, both sides of the House, by mutual giving and taking, might so amend it as to settle a question which had distressed and agitated the minds of so many for a considerable time. He was sure that a great grievance would be removed by a settlement of this question, and that a great benefit would be conferred on the Church of England itself, to which he was firmly attached. That part of the question relating to rural parishes was very difficult, but it might be got over. He differed from his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire, because he believed the machinery of the present Bill was well known in the rural districts, and it would be easier to raise church rates by that machinery than if they were totally abolished. He hoped the House would read the Bill a second time, feeling convinced, from the conciliatory spirit which had been evinced by the right hon. Gentleman who introduced it, that they would be able to come to a practical solution of the question, advantageous to the Church as well as to the country.


The challenge which was delivered by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Gilpin) imposes upon us who sit on this side of the House the duty of coming forward at an early period to declare our opinion upon this subject; because I understood him to say that he accepted this Bill as a compromise—generally accepted—rather than as being an exact representation of his own views upon the question. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire has adopted upon this Bill the tone which he adopted upon another and much greater question—namely, the tone of "All or nothing." I confess I feel myself wholly unable to follow the right hon. Gentlemen in that respect. I cannot banish from my mind—and I do not suppose that I ever shall be able to banish—the recollection that from the same hand an intermediate measure on another subject was offered to the House. That measure was rejected, and the consequence was that a very much larger measure was agreed to. For this reason I must look at this Bill not in the spirit of saying what it is that I should prefer absolutely, and resolving to stick by that and accept nothing else; but I must rather try to find out what is the best thing which, under the circumstances of the moment, I am likely to obtain for the Church to which I am attached, and to guide my course accordingly. If I could choose my course without regard to exter- nal influences, I should say that the Bill of the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Hubbard) is the solution of the question I have always preferred; but, as I have said, we must look to the circumstances of the moment. I am distinctly of opinion that it is not true of this Bill that it is worse than total abolition. On the contrary, I think it is a great deal better, for it does offer certain advantages to the Church. The first and greatest is the preservation of the machinery under which church rates are collected. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) seemed inclined to deny that there was any advantage in that. It is not a hypothetical question. In numbers of parishes, and those the most populous, church rates are at this moment collected solely by the aid of similar machinery, without any aid from any legal assistance whatever. It therefore follows that if you apply to the whole country that which is voluntarily applied to a considerable number of parishes, you would have not perhaps exactly the same advantage that you now have, but a very considerable advantage over the state of things that would result from total abolition. The right hon. Gentleman went into an imaginary description of the horrors that would result from bringing the Court of Chancery upon the scene. Now the right hon. Gentleman, although possessed of many high qualities, has not hitherto been distinguished for the fervour of his imagination; but I must say that in the present instance he has exercised that faculty with the most unbridled license. Why, the only thing proposed to be done by this Bill is to put those who offer to subscribe for church rates upon the same footing as those who subscribe to the Propagation Society, the Church Missionary and other societies; and as to the remedies of the law, to allow them to stand upon exactly the same footing! The right hon. Gentleman says that the fear of the Court of Chancery would deter people from subscribing to church rates. I would ask him whether that fear diminishes the subscription lists of the great societies to which I have referred? The Bill says in so many words that the liabilities to be imposed shall be exactly the same as in the case of every other contract of the same kind. It is not an enactment clause; it is a clause disclaiming enactment or any change in the law. There is one other advantage in this Bill over total abolition which I approve of highly, and that is that those who subscribe money should have the spending of it. It is an elementary principle of justice that it should be so. In all the discussions which we have had upon church rates I have always thought that the other side have been hardly pressed by the argument that it was unjust that those who take no part in subscribing towards the fund should yet have the power of determining how it should be spent. This, then, I regard as a very considerable advantage, because under this Bill that will be obviated. Under these circumstances, weighing this Bill against the Bill for the total abolition, I am compelled to say that this is much the better of the two. Then I must ask myself the question, whether by resisting this Bill, or the Bill of the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. Hardcastle), I am likely to gain any advantage for the Church? What shall we gain if we adhere to the principle of "No surrender" upon the subject? That is the question, which you must answer by looking at it in the light of the circumstances of the time. You must look not only to the disposition of the nation out of doors, but at the course of events in this House, the principles upon which parties guide their movements, and the laws by which public men regulate their conduct; and looking to, and having regard to all these things, I am bound to say, taking the most impartial view I can upon the subject, I do not think the Church will gain anything by prolonging this contest. I do not conceal for a moment the reluctance with which I give up anything which the Church possesses; but I am bound to look to both sides of the question, and not to content myself with stolid opposition, and refuse to give way to that tendency by which it seems to me so many of us are apt to be affected, of pursuing for many years a steady obstruction, and then giving way to an unreasonable panic. I think, therefore, it is wiser to accept the terms now offered, because I am distinctly of opinion that we may go further and fare worse.


said, that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire had used a most remarkable illustration in support of the Bill for the abolition of church rates, which was before the House. The right hon. Gentleman said that the abolition of the vestry-cess in Ireland had saved the Irish Establishment of the United Church, and inferred that the abolition of church rates would be equally salutary to the Church in England. But he (Mr. Newdegate) begged to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he considered the position of the Church in Ireland safe at present? He would beg to refer the right hon. Gentleman to those who were urging him forward in his present course in seeking to abolish church rates unconditionally, whether they considered the Establishment of the Church in Ireland safe; every one knew that they would tell the right hon. Gentleman that the Establishment of the Church in Ireland was condemned, was tottering to its fall, and that they rejoiced in the prospect of its destruction. That was, indeed, a most pregnant illustration. Two Members had spoken who hitherto had been opposed to the principle of abolishing church rates, but who now of a sudden seemed determined to make a clean sweep of the whole matter, and that, too, without waiting for the intervention of that Reformed Parliament which, as was generally contended, would be able to deal more satisfactorily and in a more strictly national sense with such questions, as more directly representing the people. That Parliament could scarcely do more than was now proposed on this subject, even if so disposed, which he (Mr. Newdegate) very greatly doubted. They had been told that great Parliamentary changes should be made by the Reformed Parliament, and he could not see that they were justified in taking out of the hands of the Reformed Parliament these important Parliamentary functions. With his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) he confessed he preferred the Bill of the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. Hardcastle) to this Bill, and he did so because that Bill would leave the vestries unimpaired—the representation of the inhabitants of each parish whole and efficient—to regulate the affairs and maintain the rubrics and services of their own respective parish churches. And it was notorious that not only had the Church of England to contend with the adversaries of the Establishment, and with the difficulties which had arisen from the objections of Dissenters, but she had to contend with the narrow spirit of ecclesiasticism and sacerdotalism within her own pale; and that was the reason why he looked with extreme suspicion upon every attempt to impair the power of the vestry, which, both by this Bill and by the Bill of the hon. Members for Stoke-upon-Trent and Buckingham, would be superseded by another organization for which provision was made by those measures. By this Bill they constituted out of the vestry what was called a voluntary association, and its organ was to be the churchwarden or any other person this quasi voluntary association might employ, and to that churchwarden or treasurer would be transferred the whole of the authority hitherto exercised by the inhabitants in vestry—namely, the authority affecting the internal and external management of the church, and all questions involved in the services of the church. Neither Dissenting bodies who managed their own chapels nor voluntary associations were armed with the powers by law which this Bill proposed to transfer year by year from the great body of the parishioners, represented by the vestry, to these voluntary associations. It was perfectly idle to blink the whole bearings of this question. Suppose a parish in which a certain number, perhaps a small number, of wealthy persons met, and they succeeded in carrying a very high rate of assessment. It might be said that there was no inducement so to do; but the inducement was a distinct inducement, as by thus taxing themselves they rendered it, under the provisions of this Bill, eminently improbable that the other parishioners would come in and pay as much; and if they did not pay as much the whole assessment, the administration of the fabric of the church would fall into the hands of a small and expensive minority. Total abolition he regarded as eminently unjust, because it would deprive the parishioners of a power which they had exercised for centuries upon centuries in having a voice in the application of the share in the property of the parish which they possessed for the maintenance of the fabric and the ministrations of the Church; and, as a layman, he would ever protest against the parishes being deprived of that property and that authority which they had by law possessed for centuries. His own Bill before the House provided a substitute for church rate, and claimed for the parishioners and the great body of the laity a portion of their ancient right. He regarded the present proposal as unjust, because it robbed the poorer even more than it robbed the wealthy laity of the Church of England; and the same charge was applicable to the Bill of the hon. Member for Bury. But this Bill not only deprived the laity of the Church of England—the poorer class of laity—of the property which had been their right for centuries, but a new body was substituted to supersede them in the management of the fabric of the church and of the services, and the House was invited to bring all the powers of the law, common and ecclesiastical, to bear upon the inhabitants, while transferring the power hitherto vested in them into the hands of a voluntary association, of which nothing was known in the various parishes. He agreed with his right hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire, that if it was the will of Parliament to deprive the laity and the poorer class of laity—the tenantry and small cottiers—of their legitimate right in the property of the parish for the purpose of maintaining the fabric of their church, at least they should be left in the control of their church according to law, when in vestry assembled; the authority of officers whom they had elected for centuries should not be swept away, or the manner in which the services of their church should be conducted be prescribed by an alien body. At all events the laity, if they were placed in the position of Dissenters, ought not to be crippled or bound, further than at present, by provisions of the law.


said, that from his connection with this subject for several years he might be expected to express an opinion upon it. When he first saw this Bill he had considerable doubt as to some of its provisions; but he begged to tender his thanks to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire for the clearness with which he had explained away those doubts. On the principle of attachment to kindred it might be supposed that he preferred his own child to that of the right hon. Gentleman; but under all the circumstances he felt it would ill become him to stand in the way of what seemed likely to be a settlement of this long-vexed question. The machinery of this Bill, which the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Oxfordshire complained of as cumbrous, was really the exact machinery which the right hon. Gentleman had been defending in connection with the existing church rates, and he could not see how it would become more cumbrous than it was now. Church rates would be collected from those only who were willing to pay. The returns on church rates were not quite accurate, because there were many parishes put down as paying church rates on compulsion which did not do so on com- pulsion at all. As to the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman, it only remained for him to express general satisfaction with it. It was not for him to presume to compliment the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Viscount Cranborne) upon his short but remarkable speech; but he (Mr. Hardcastle) had never seen more clearly than in the speech of the noble Lord the distinction between the mere politician and the statesman. The noble Lord, up to this time, had consistently opposed the abolition of church rates, and he now supported a measure which virtually included that abolition, and the noble Lord did so from sentiments which he thought did not only his feelings but his understanding the highest honour.


said, that it had been his desire that his own Bill should come before the House on the present occasion, but after comparing it with that of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) he was unable to say that he could vote against the second reading. The two measures seemed to have been drawn under the same idea, although they varied in the course of procedure. His own motive was to relieve Dissenters from pecuniary liability, and to give them exemption in a manner the most simple and least inconvenient to Churchmen. The present Bill, no doubt, involved the subversion of a great system of rating which had existed from time immemorial, but the circumstances of the country had also changed. It was to be admitted that the ordinary mode of levying a rate was hardly compatible with the spirit of religious liberty, because it enforced upon all payment for an object which was common only to a few. There were only two courses to pursue—either to abolish church rates altogether, and unconditionally, or to adopt some mode of exempting from the payment of church rates those who felt themselves aggrieved by paying. His difference with his right hon. Friend was more in words than meaning. He could not get over his repugnance to the word "abolition" in the Bill, but if his right hon. Friend meant the abolition of compulsory payment of rates, and not the abolition of compulsory rates, they would be entirely at one. He could not agree with his right hon. Friend (Mr. Henley) that simple abolition would be an advantage over the present plan. He believed that if the machinery of the present Bill were properly and judiciously handled, church rates would be collected with almost the same certainty and success as in times past. His right hon. Friend was under a misapprehension in thinking that under the sixth clause suits in Chancery might be held in terrorem over the heads of subscribers to church rates. That clause was indispensable to the action of the Bill, because persons might enrol themselves as subscribers to the church rate and then refuse to pay. It was necessary that those who were to administer the fund should be able to rely on receiving the sums promised to them. He believed there would be very few cases in which the promises made would be falsified, but the obligation to pay ought to be maintained as a legal obligation. Last year the right hon. Gentleman's Bill had a clause incapacitating persons who did not subscribe to the rate from claiming, as a right, a seat in the parish church. He could not agree with that clause, and he was glad it was withdrawn from the present Bill. It would be unfortunate to perpetuate and intensify such differences. He was ready to say let the Bill be rend a second time; but he trusted that the House would permit his own Bill to come under the consideration of the Committee when the present Bill arrived at that stage, believing, as he did, that there were some points in regard to the payment of rates in which his own Bill might be advantageously followed. He wished to add that, in his anxiety to see this question settled, he was by no means acting under the horror of a Reformed Parliament. He believed that if that Parliament could be trusted at all, it was upon this, which was essentially a poor man's question. The battle they were fighting was to have the churches open without fee and without payment to the labouring poor; and their dread was lest, by removing the obligation which had for so many years rested on property, they might be endangering the right of the poor to the free use of their churches. He should give his assent to the second reading, trusting to see some expressions in the Bill altered in Committee. He hoped the House would permit his own Bill to come under the consideration of the same Select Committee, believing, as he did, that there were some points of detail in which his Bill might be followed with advantage.


said, it was very inconvenient that the debate should have gone on so long without some expression of the view taken of the Bill by Her Majesty's Government. Hon. Members opposite were rather unreasonable in dealing with the question. In former debates they protested against the abolition of church rates without some substitute being made in the shape of consequential provisions; but now that a Bill was brought in abolishing church rates, and making consequential provisions, hon. Members said they would prefer a Bill of total abolition. He thought that his right hon. Friend deserved the thanks of the House for the Bill he had introduced. He had, in the least objectionable manner, endeavoured to make the new arrangement harmonize as much as possible with those which already exist. It was a mistake to suppose that the Bill excluded the voluntary system; it gave power, on the contrary, to raise a voluntary rate or a voluntary subscription instead of a rate, and it provided machinery for administering the fund. The principle of the Bill was that when a man promised he should be made to pay, and this was only common honesty. Neither did he see any reason for fearing that it would land men in a Chancery suit, to subscribe or not, as they chose. There was one point to which he wished to call the attention of his right hon. Friend, and that was the necessity of taking precautions in Committee against the danger of wealthy persons getting the control of the parish church and introducing therein practices repugnant to the Protestant feeling of this country. He felt sure that nothing could be further from the intention of his right hon. Friend than to promote the diffusion of such practices; but there was a perverseness on the part of some clergymen which led them to take advantage of any opportunities presented to them of offending the religious convictions of the people. The effect in such cases was that the parishioners so offended did not care to take the matter into an ecclesiastical court, but simply left their parish church; and more was being done by clergymen to undermine the Established Church than by all the Dissenting communities, who often, indeed, in their chapels, provided Churchmen with those means of participating in a real Protestant worship which were now denied them in their own parish churches. It was a grave reflection upon Churchmen that their ministers were not able to obtain from the spontaneous offerings of their congregations the means of carrying on the ministrations of the Church. What could be more anomalous than the fact that £6,000,000 sterling were annually spent in intoxicating drinks, while ministers of the Church were unable to obtain, without compulsory church rates, the means of performing the sacraments of the Church. He thought the Bill ought to be read a second time.


Sir, the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) has called upon some Member of the Government to express an opinion on this Bill; and I certainly did not mean to allow this debate, at the whole of which I have been present, to close without expressing the opinion, I will not say of the Government, but my own opinion, and also that of my Colleagues who are here—although I am bound to say that I have not gone into special consultation with them on the subject—upon the provisions of this measure. The right hon. Gentleman who has introduced the Bill has introduced it in a tone which has been acknowledged, as well from this side of the House as from his own, as well calculated to bring together those who are anxious to come to some compromise on this question. With respect to my own position on this subject, I may say that I have steadily and consistently voted against the abolition of church rates whenever proposed in the bare form in which it has been brought forward by the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. Hardcastle) and others; and I always should vote against a Bill assuming that shape. The part which was taken on this subject by my right hon. Friend who preceded me at the Home Office (Mr. Walpole) in 1859 was to produce a Bill similar to that advocated by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Hubbard)—that is to say, one giving Dissenters, or anybody else who claimed it, exemption from church rates by putting the negative duty of objecting upon the Dissenters or others who should claim such exemption, whereas, in the present Bill, as I understand it, a change is made which is recognized by the hon. Member for Buckingham—namely, that the positive duty of coming forward as Churchman is put upon Churchmen, instead of leaving the Dissenters or objectors to come forward and deny their liability to church rates. As I understand this Bill, whoever joins in the poll, whether in the majority or the minority, is to have signed his name to a declaration that he will be bound by the decision of the majority, and that, if it is so decided, he will pay the amount of his assessment or an equivalent voluntary contribution. I am bound to say that in my opinion, with respect to a great number of the parishes of this country, this Bill, if passed, would never come into operation. The fact is, that there are not those meetings which are supposed by this measure to exist. In the majority of the parishes where church rates are regularly collected, I believe that none but the Churchwardens go to the vestry and levy the rate, because nobody else thinks it worth his while to go there, and there is not a division upon the question. I have always thought that the outcry raised against church rates was an exaggerated one; that where those rates are felt to be a grievance they cease by resolution of the vestry itself; and that in other cases they are collected without any of that bitterness of feeling and those heartburnings which the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Gilpin), in the vividness of his imagination, has conjured up. I think that those discussions which take place in London as to what occurs in the country are founded on very isolated cases, and not upon the general run of church rate levies throughout the kingdom. In my opinion, if this Bill arrives at the Committee, it will be found that a necessity exists—both in the sense indicated by the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets, and also in that expressed by some hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House—for re-considering its clauses in many respects. We are likewise entitled to ask that the right hon. Gentleman, if we allow the Bill to be read the second time and to get into Committee, shall fix the Committee upon it for a day subsequent to the discussion upon the other Church Rate Bills now on the Paper, so that there may be a full consideration of the whole question raised by these measures. [Mr. GLADSTONE nodded assent.] I am ready to grant a second reading to the Bill on such an understanding. I assented to the Bill of my right hon. Friend (Mr. Walpole) in 1859, and was, in fact, a Member of the Government by which it was brought in. This measure involves a question of changing the position of the parties—that is, it makes the Churchman come forward affirmatively, and then puts the compulsion upon him, instead of requiring the Dissenter to come forward and negative his liability, and thus obtain exemption. I still adhere to my opinion that church rates are not a grievance to the country; that they might still be levied by resolution of the vestry without being such a grievance; and in assenting to the second reading of this Bill, with a view to a settlement, if practicable, I retain that opinion, and should be ready to pronounce it if occasion arose.


quite agreed with what had fallen from the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Viscount Cranborne) in regard to the maxim of "All or nothing." He thought it extremely desirable that some organization should exist by which the means of effecting the annual average repairs required by parish churches would be provided. However well the voluntary principle worked in certain cases, it was not uniformly applicable. It often happened that a church was neglected and allowed to fall into serious decay, rather than ask the people for the requisite sums to keep it wind and water-tight. Then when the building was in ruins, a large amount had to be all at once raised by the new system of bazaars combined with the old system of "boring" people for subscriptions, which would never have been needed if the common repairs had been made from time to time. A moderate application of the principle of pew-rents, while retaining a sufficient number of free sittings, might, he thought, help the solution of that question. He thought some of the claims of the Dissenters were reasonable, and others unreasonable. He was opposed to the total abolition of church rates without any substitute whatever; but he did not share the alarm which the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire had expressed as to "Chancery suits." If the only alternative presented to him was total abolition, or the Bill now before the House, he should prefer to vote for the latter.


said, he wished to express his satisfaction at the manner in which this Bill had been introduced by the right hon. Gentleman, and he thought the Bill might lead to a very satisfactory compromise. He was also glad that the Government had acceded to the second reading of the Bill. The subject had been for too many years under discussion; a number of Bills had been brought in with the view of arriving at a settlement of the question, and he thought it had better not be left to the tender mercies of the reformed Parliament. The power of the present law was exercised in very few cases indeed. He knew the case of a parish where the church was restored, the services during the time of restoration being conducted in one of the public buildings in town. The expense was provided for by a weekly offertory, which was found to work so well, that when the parish church was completed, the practice was continued, and from this source a sum was obtained which was likely to amount to £150 a year. This plan might become applicable to town parishes; but with respect to rural parishes the case seemed to be very different, for there it would be found that church rates had been collected for centuries, and that no one had refused to pay them. He thought this Bill might operate so as to cause hardship in the case of certain of the parochial clergy, upon whom the burden of the repairs would fall if funds were not otherwise provided. He should be glad if, in such cases, there could be a relaxation of the law of mortmain, or if a remedy could be applied by applying the provisions of the Lands Improvement Act to the Church. One or two other additional provisions might be introduced. It would be well to provide that the incumbent should have the right to nominate one churchwarden. He should be glad to see the House go into Committee on this Bill. He hoped the result would be a settlement of the question, which he was sure would render the Church stronger.


agreed with every word contained in the straightforward speech of the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Viscount Cranborne), and with the eulogy passed upon the noble Lord by the hon. Member for Bury, just because it kept in view the main object of the noble Lord, without too closely questioning what, under other circumstances, he would prefer. What were the objects the noble Lord desired to obtain? They were to postpone as far as possible the time when there would be a separation of Church and State, to uphold the supremacy of one class over another, and keep up the machinery of coercion after the time for using it had passed away. However, he (Mr. Taylor) desired that the separation of Church and State should take place, and he hoped the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman would not pass, but that the matter would be relegated to a Reformed Parliament. He should vote against the Bill on the ground that he believed that the Church would "go further and fare worse."


said, that, taking as he did a great interest in the question, and having for the last two years proposed clauses much resembling those contained in this Bill, he felt gratified at the course the present debate had taken. He thought that the Bill was likely to prove a useful measure by extinguishing sources of discord; though he might wish for one more extensive in scope. He trusted that the clergy would not be misled by the views of the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire, or be influenced by the chimera he had conjured up in regard to the Court of Chancery. In all those parishes which were blessed with a faithful ministry the clergy would, he believed, find themselves effectually supported under the provisions of that Bill. He felt sure the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman would work satisfactorily.


was rejoiced to find that the Government would not assist those hon. Members who had spoken against that Bill in pressing for a division upon its second reading. No charge upon property could carry with it a stronger prescriptive claim than church rates; but there was a time, when yielding to the conscientious convictions of one's opponent was a wise policy, and he thought that time had now arrived in regard to that question, and he trusted, from the general tone and the temper of the House, that no serious opposition would be offered to the passing of that measure. He believed that both Nonconformists and Churchmen had many objects of social importance in which they felt a common interest, but upon which they could not act well together if the bar which at present existed were allowed to continue between the two bodies. If it were removed, they might then have that united harmony of action which would be of so much advantage to the country. Under these circumstances, he cordially wished success to the measure of the right hon. Member for South Lancashire.


was of opinion that they ought to get rid of church rates altogether, regretted that that Bill had met with so much sanction on both sides of the House. For the very reason which induced the noble Lord the Member for Stamford (Viscount Cranborne) to agree to the measure, he was inclined to disagree with it. He wanted the total abolition of church rates; and believed that if the pressure hitherto applied to hon. Gentlemen opposite for that object had been vigorously continued, hon. Gentlemen opposite would have yielded on that question in as graceful a manner as they had done in regard to Parliamentary Reform; but when the Leaders on both sides united, as they frequently did, to oppose all progress and all that was good, independent Members like himself were, of course, obliged to give way.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Wednesday, 11th March.