HC Deb 11 March 1868 vol 190 cc1395-415

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, that the importance of that question was not to be estimated by the £250,000 which were paid annually in the form of church rates, and still less by the £20,000 which were contributed by persons who were not members of the Church of England. The demand for a change in the law of church rates arose from the objection made by Dissenters to pay for the maintenance of a church and for the performance of Church services from which they derived no advantage. No one would deny that there was on the face of the matter a hardship in that position; but the case of those persons had been taken up by others who made that grievance the pretext for an onslaught upon the Established Church. Those gentlemen denounced a Church Establishment as an institution utterly at variance with the liberty of the subject and as a great social and religious evil. Those extravagant declarations upon the one side had been met by declarations equally extreme upon the other; and the result had been the rise of an irritating and prolonged contest. There existed, however, between these two extremes a large and a growing party who saw not one side but both sides of the question, and who were anxious for its adjustment upon principles which would recognize at once the claims of civil and religious liberty and the rights and privileges of the Established Church. For many years attempts had been made to settle this object of contention, and men who had now attained eminent legal positions had introduced Bills for this object. He had himself, in conjunction with his noble Friend the Member for Stamford (Viscount Cranborne) introduced a Bill some years ago for the accomplishment of that latter object, and that Bill was to a great extent the same as the one which he was then submitting to the consideration of the House. The measure would give to those who dissented from the doctrines of the Established Church the most complete immunity from any burden or any annoyance in the form of a church rate, while it would at the same time provide for the convenience of the inhabitants of the many parishes—amounting, he believed, to four-fifths of the whole number in England—in which church rates were levied, not only without any contest, but with the most perfect unanimity of feeling. In those districts the imposition of a rate could not he thought, be open to any objection either in principle or in practice; but he readily admitted that in parishes in which Dissenters were compelled to contribute to such a tax there existed a real grievance; and that grievance he would remove by the present Bill. It was manifestly desirable, in dealing with the subject, to give relief to the few in a manner which would not prove a hindrance and inconvenience to the many; and he believed that the best mode of effecting that object was the adoption of the principle of exemption. It was accordingly upon that principle that the Bill was founded. The view which he entertained of the question was that no one should contribute to a fund in the expenditure of which he had no interest; and the relief which in conformity with that principle he would apply to individuals would be extended to districts. There were many parishes in which new district churches had been established, and it would clearly be a hardship that Churchmen in those districts should be compelled to contribute to the maintenance not only of the churches which they frequented but also of the mother church. Both these objects were obtained by the Bill which he had introduced. Another provision of the measure met the case of those parishes which, under the Act of 1825, were enabled to raise loans and to repay them in twenty years by small instalments. That process was beneficial to the parties interested, and he should be glad to see it retained. The Bill contained a clause enabling that practice to be continued, and declaring that the Act of 1825 should not be repealed. Having now brought this measure before the House, he would leave the disposition of the matter in its hands. He trusted, however, that the Bill would be read a second time and committed to the same Committee as that to which the measure of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) would be committed. He thought it would then be found that there were matters contained in the present measure which might be engrafted upon the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman.

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


I hope and believe that the House has assembled on this occasion in order to deal with this difficult question in a practical and conciliatory manner. On that account I rise, not for the purpose of entering into any general discussion upon the question of church rates; but in order to support the proposal that has just been thrown out by the hon. Member for Buckingham as to the mode in which the House should proceed in the business of the day. During several years in which I have taken part in Church questions, I have always maintained, and am still ready to maintain, that the existing system of church rates is in theory a fair, equitable, and advantageous one. I believe it is one which is well calculated to provide for the maintenance of our parish churches, and, speaking generally, it is the system which is best adapted to the wants of the Church. At the same time, I am aware that a very strong feeling is prevalent among the Nonconformist bodies, and even among Churchmen, upon the subject of this law—a feeling that it would be desirable, if possible, to put an end to discussions of an irritating and annoying character, which have so largely prevailed, and which have to some extent thrown discredit upon the Church itself. I have always felt that, as far as the maintenance of the churches is concerned, we have nothing to fear from an abolition of church rates. I do not think if such an event occurred that the Church of England would be found wanting in that voluntary liberality which has been so largely displayed by other bodies should she be reduced to the necessity of adopting the same system. But I would always maintain our system of church rates, on the ground that the parochial system is the best adapted for interesting the laity in the management and conduct of Church affairs. It is very undesirable, if we can avoid it, to break up that system which throughout a large part of the country is still acceptable to a great mass of the people. But in these discussions we have now had almost every possible argument presented to us, and have tolerably well threshed out and sifted them, and I suppose both sides have come to the conclusion that it is useless trying to convince each other on those points of the question on which we materially differ. Throughout the greater part of these discussions suggestions have been thrown out that some attempt should be made at a compromise. The principle of a compromise has been frequently admitted by those who support church rates. We have always said that if any fair and satisfactory compromise is proposed we shall give it a careful and candid consideration. This is not only so; but upon various occasions Members of the Conservative party, and on one occasion the Conservative Government themselves, have brought forward schemes for compromise. It has been generally found, however, when they came to be examined, that the Nonconformists and others hostile to church rates have not been satisfied with the terms proposed, and of course it is useless to propose compromises which we know will not be accepted. That is the reason why upon this occasion the Government have not come forward with a measure of their own. They felt that if they could have brought forward a Bill which in the spirit of compromise would have been acceptable to the Nonconformists, they would have felt themselves bound to do so. But they have seen nothing in the discussions of late years which is very encouraging in that direction. At the same time, we are very unwilling to discourage any attempt on either side to settle this question. Our feeling at present is that the House should take into consideration both plans now submitted—the one by the right hon. Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone), the other by the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Hubbard)—with the view of seeing whether some arrangement cannot be come to by which a scheme may be devised that will be acceptable to the Nonconformists, and will work in with our existing system. Both these plans propose to preserve the parochial system, which would be destroyed by the abolition of church rates. It is very desirable to consider whether either of the two are likely to be acceptable to the House, and, if either, which would be preferred. I think the suggestion thrown out by the hon. Member for Buckingham is one of a satisfactory and practical character. It would work in this way—supposing the House supported the second reading of his measure the Motion will be made that it be committed this day. After the Speaker shall have left the Chair, as it is to be presumed he will presently do on the question of going into Committee upon the Bill of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Lancashire, the Motion will be made that the Bill of the hon. Member for Buckingham shall be referred to the same Committee. That being agreed to, I apprehend the Chairman of Committees will first go over the clauses of the first of these Bills, and then go over the clauses of the second. In that case, if any of the clauses of the measure of the right hon. Member for South Lancashire are rejected, we shall without loss of time be enabled to consider the clauses of the alternative plan of the hon. Member for Buckingham. If either of the Bills is accepted it will be to the exclusion of the other; but if neither is accepted, then we shall just stand where we are. In that way a practical result may be arrived at, which it will be the desire of the Government to forward as far as possible. The hon. Member for Bury (Mr. Hardcastle), desiring, as I gather, to forward the plan of compromise proposed by the right hon. Member for South Lanca- shire, has consented to let his measure—one of a wholly different character, for the simple abolition of church rates—stand over till a future day, a proceeding which will meet the convenience of the House; and I would suggest that the hon. Member for North "Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate), whose plan is also different from the two Bills now under consideration, which are cognate measures, should also allow his Bill to be postponed to a later day, in order that we may first consider the question of a compromise and see whether anything can be made of it. If nothing can be made of it, then will come the proper time for considering the other Church Rate Bills. I make this proposal, not for the purpose of delay, but, on the contrary, that we may not lose this day, but devote it to what may be a practical work, and perhaps conducive to the settlement of this very difficult question.


said, he would be happy to agree to the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman (Sir Stafford North-cote), and would postpone his Bill till the same day as that on which the measure of the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. Hardcastle) was to be considered—namely, the 8th of April. He and the hon. Member for Bury practically agreed in the object sought to be attained. Both desired to give a universal exemption from all personal liability to the payment of church rates. They did not wish to pry by law into the particular religious opinions of any party whatever. He (Mr. Newdegate) adhered to the Resolution of the House in 1862—that it would be unwise and inexpedient to abolish church rates without some compensation, He objected to both the Bills that were now before the House because they would introduce the sectarian element, of singling out and separating members of the Church of England from the rest of their co-religionists. The Bills would, in fact, do what the late Sir James Graham always condemned—namely, ticket Dissenters. He objected to the fostering of any such sectarian spirit by means of law. He further objected to the measures because they would break up the parochial system in so far as the Church of England was concerned. He would not nail any man arbitrarily down to the religious belief of the day because he at a particular time objected to church rates. It appeared to him to be the very essence of sectarianism to do anything of the kind. Because he was too Catholic and too liberal to approve of any such procedure he should feel him- self constrained to vote against the second reading of these Bills.


said, that, in postponing his Bill for a month, he did so not in the anticipation that that sitting would be employed in discussing the Bill of the hon. Member for Buckingham along with that of the right hon. Member for South Lancashire; but in the belief that the discussion of the last-named measure, in which he cordially concurred in its present shape, would occupy the time of the House that day. He could not agree that the Bills of the hon. Member for Buckingham and the right hon. Member for South Lancashire were cognate measures; they were, he believed, as opposite to each other as they could be, the one abolishing compulsory church rates, while the other did not. Although he might support the one, he must oppose the other. He suggested that the hon. Member for Buckingham should postpone his measure till the same day as those of his own and the hon. Member for North Warwickshire, and in order to give him an opportunity of doing so, he should move to leave out the word "now" in the Motion before the House, and insert the words "8th of April."

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon Wednesday the 8th day of April next."—(Mr. Hardcastle.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, it was with considerable regret that he found that the hon. Member for Bury (Mr. Hardcastle) did not assent to the proposal of the Secretary of State for India (Sir Stafford Northcote), a proposal that seemed to be based on a desire, which he hoped actuated every one present, to settle the long-vexed question of church rates in a manner equitable alike to Churchman and Dissenter. That desire, he was sure, inspired every word that had fallen from the hon. Member for Buckingham (Mr. Hubbard), and also from the Treasury Bench. They all, or at least most of them, wished, not that the question should again fall asleep, for the time for suffering it do so had gone by—not to let it be an irritating sore next year, when new men and new minds, and, perhaps, more bitter feelings—though he hoped it would be otherwise—would be brought to bear on all questions affecting the relations of Church and State, but that the last legacy of the old Constitution of 1832—if he might call a Constitution of their own lifetime old—should be the olive branch on the subject of church rates. What was the proposal that emanated from the Treasury Bench? That that Bill should be committed, not to a Select Committee, but to a Committee of the Whole House. It gave the right hon. Member for South Lancashire (Mr. Gladstone) the pas. He would come first; he might carry all his clauses, and then that Church Rates Regulation Bill was nowhere; for the clauses on that hypothesis already passed would he inconsistent with those that were to follow after. But if the recommendation of the hon. Member for Bury were taken, where would they stand? The 8th of April would, in all probability, fall within the Easter Recess, and to fix a Bill for that date would be practically the same thing as putting it off till the 1st of April, or some impossible day. To consent to such a proposal would be to consent, in a roundabout way, to the dropping altogether of the Bill, which bore the names of his hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham and of himself. But if they took the two Bills together this afternoon they would have the whole case fairly before them. That case turned upon the one distinction of "ticketing." The one Bill proposed that the Dissenters should be relieved from payment of church rates by claiming exemption, the other that Churchmen should undertake to pay them under a voluntary assessment—one scheme ticketed Dissenters and the other Churchmen. Everything which had occurred in that House led him more and more to the conviction that the old traditionary position of the Church of England, in which she had conferred such inestimable benefits upon the nation, might have well entitled her, while respecting the conscientious scruples of those outside her pale, to expect that those who objected to pay church rates should be content to be relieved from them by means of exempting clauses. And, although that was but a point of detail, still it was one of sufficient importance to be taken into consideration in this final Session of the present system of Parliamentary government. What was it, after all, that was called "ticketing?" If they looked at it, not as a sentimental grievance, but with the eye of common sense, it was an epigrammatic phrase; it was one of the many instances of which the history of the world was full—an epigram accidentally obtained currency, being accepted by unthinking people in place of an argument. What, he repeated, was the grievance of being ticketed; they had always twenty-four Noblemen who were glad enough to be ticketed with a "star and garter;" they had 658 Gentlemen in that House who were glad enough to be ticketed with "M.P." on the covers of their letters. In fact, the whole world was a system of ticketing and counter-ticketing, and must be unless they were reduced to the condition of savages running in a wood. Why, therefore, men of strong and peculiar religious opinion should object so much to that special kind of ticketing he never could understand. From their point of view it ought to be the most honourable one, as it showed the strength of their religious convictions. Still, he repeated, the point was one of detail; and if the House refused to adopt the conciliatory proposal of the Secretary of State for India, he would be none the less willing on that account to enter upon the consideration of the right hon. Member for South Lancashire's Bill, with a view, if possible, to modify it, but, in any case, to make it a settlement of the question. No doubt, it was not a Church Rate Abolition Bill, or it would not have been regarded in as favourable light as it had been on that (the Ministerial) side of the House. Still, it bore on its face the unlucky word "abolition;" and why, he asked, should that word, which had become the party badge of the Nonconformists, be retained there? If, on his own side, ticketing, and many other things which were thought desirable were abandoned, was it asking too much of the other side that, while it obtained the relief it sought for conscientious scruples, it should at least divest the affair of the character of a party triumph, and make it a settlement, an arrangement, a compromise, and in so doing excise that invidious and unnecessary word "abolition?" He hoped the result of the Committee would at least be that the Bill might be so far altered and amended. He rejoiced that the ultimate settlement of church rates, whatever form it might assume, was not to take the form of a universal fabric rate. That would be a most fatal settlement; for a universal fabric rate would be a declaration that the fabrics of the Church belonged to the nation, and they would soon become buildings entirely at the disposal and under the control of the bureaucracy of the country. There would be that assumption on the part of the Government of the day—of some Government, he meant which might prevail, not now, but perhaps twenty or thirty years hence an assumption of the property in those fabrics which exists in many commonwealths abroad, which would be followed here, as it already had been in those countries, by consequences equally subversive of the religious freedom of Nonconformists and of Churchmen. With this great danger in view he was the more conciliated to the present measure. He hoped, therefore, that the right hon. Member for South Lancashire would see no difficulty in conceding the moderate request of the Secretary of State for India, and allow the Bill before them to be read the second time pro formâ, and considered in Committee.


It appears to me, Sir, though I will not dwell upon the point, that a question of form might be raised with respect to the proposal of my hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham. I cannot see how we can preserve due respect for the ground of the rule which directs that the second reading of a Bill shall be taken on one day and the Committee on another, if he is to propose now to read his Bill a second time, in order that it may be referred to the same Committee with the Bill which I have had the honour to introduce. It will be more material to go into the question of substance; but I am bound to say, in reference to the proposal of my hon. Friend, that notice should have been given of it, and that it should not have been introduced either by him or by the Secretary of State without notice to the House. Waiving however, that topic, I wish to explain the position in which I stand with regard to the matter, because I feel the force of the appeal which has been addressed to me from the other side, and I do not wish to deviate from the spirit which has thus been displayed. The meaning of the proposal is this: We are to assent to the second reading of the Bill of the hon. Member for Buckingham, and then refer it to the same Committee as the Bill which, for the sake of convenience, I have called mine. The measure might with equal propriety have been called that of the hon. Member for Hastings, that of the hon. Member for Birmingham, that of Mr. Fox (formerly Member for Oldham), or that of many other Gentleman, who have all made suggestions which are fundament- ally embodied in my Bill. Apart from that, however, we are asked, I say, to read the Bill of the hon. Member a second time, and thereby to assent to its principle. Now, I lay down, without fear of contradiction, this maxim, that it is not wise to refer to the same Committee, Bills that are founded upon opposite principles. If it happens that there are Bills of a similar character some of the provisions of one of which might usefully be embodied into the other, such a procedure would be quite expedient and proper. But it is neither wise nor useful to refer Bills of totally opposite principles to the same Committee. The object of referring the Bills under notice to the same Committee is that we may test the principle of my clauses first, and if it is disapproved of we may then proceed with the clauses of the other measure. That, I hold, is the very question which ought to be decided upon the second reading of the Bill. My hon. Friend must feel the force of my objection. Why read a measure a second time at all if the principle upon which it proceeds is to be decided upon in Committee? It would certainly be very undesirable that the second reading should be considered to be a mere formality, and that the two Bills should be jumbled together when they go into Committee. The House has four different plans of dealing with the church rate question before it, each of which is perfectly distinct. The hon. Member for Bury (Mr. Hardcastle) has in my estimation adopted the simplest course. He recognizes the fact that the Bill which he proposes is different to mine, and he assents to the judgment of the House being taken upon mine as an alternative. For the sake of peace he is contented to support mine, and has postponed his own until the fate of mine is decided. The hon. Member for North Warwickshire again has a plan which is totally different and distinct from the others. That hon. Member is very much in favour of the preservation of the parochial system, but his Bill is by far the most ruinous to that system. He gets rid of the class of paying people, and hands the matter over to the class of landlords.


The right hon. Gentleman cannot have read my Bill.


That seems to me to be a remark which would be more appropriate in a reply than used as an ejaculation. My hon. Friend gets rid not only of the working but the spirit of the parochial system altogether. It seems, how- ever, that we are generally agreed that this Bill may be postponed until we have gone into Committee on the Bill I have had the honour to introduce. I come now to consider mine in conjunction with the Bill of the hon. Member for Buckingham, and to ask whether his principal clauses can, by any possible exercise of ingenuity, be reconciled with mine. Undoubtedly they cannot. Either my clauses must disappear and his clauses stand, or his must disappear and mine must stand. What, then, can be the use of referring that question to the consideration of a Committee of this House? Surely it is a question which ought to be considered now, and I venture to suggest to my hon. Friend that the course taken by him ought to be the same as that taken by the hon. Member for Bury. If he proposes his plan as an alternative, let us first see whether the House is disposed to accept of the plan embodied in my Bill. If not the House will pronounce upon the plan of the hon. Member for Buckingham, and he will able to submit his plan to the judgment of the House. My hon. Friend as well as myself gives up the question of church rates in the nature of a claim to levy from the whole community the charges for maintaining the fabric of the Church, on the ground that the services within the Church could be made available for the whole community. My discretion in the matter has become very narrow. My Bill was accepted on the second reading by many Gentlemen sitting on both sides of the House, and I am in the condition of a man who has virtually at least made a compact with my hon. Friends near me, and also with many Gentlemen sitting opposite, from neither of which do I feel myself at liberty to deviate. If I could adopt the clauses of my hon. Friend's Bill without deviating from the spirit of the compact, I should gladly do so, and so likewise I should adopt any suggestion made from this side of the House; but at any rate I consider myself bound to take the judgment of the House whether it is right to proceed with a measure which, on the one hand, entirely rejects from the church rate system every element of compulsion, whilst it retains, on the other hand, the form and material of church rates, and gives to the subscribers, whether Dissenters or not, the right of making inquiries as to the application of the funds thus raised. My hon. Friend does not proceed on this basis; he wishes to throw on the individuals who wish to exempt themselves from the payment of church rates the necessity of some special proceeding in order to attain that object. It would be a complete deviation from the compact made on the second reading of the Bill, if I understand him rightly, were I to accede to that principle. The distinct effect of my own measure is that the promises hereafter made as to the payment of church rates should be voluntary promises only, and not enforceable as church rates, or recoverable at law, except in circumstances under which any other promises would be enforceable. In the meantime, I think it impossible to accede to a plan which would throw on a Committee of this House the duty we ought to discharge on the second reading of the Bill.


said, that upon the mere question of economy he thought his own proposition the better of the two. He believed that both himself and his right hon. Friend the Member for South Lancashire were agreed as to the principle of compulsion. [Mr. GLADSTONE: No.] He entirely abjured the principle of compulsion under his Bill, except in the case of assumed acquiescence to pay the rate. If the House accepted the second reading of his Bill, it could then be seen whether, consistently with the forms of the House, it could be considered with the Bill of his right hon. Friend. He now asked the House to assent to the second reading of his Bill.


thought that, considering they had now arrived at that stage of this long controversy in which they were endeavouring to settle the question in a manner which both sides of the House would more or less approve of, as well as the country generally, it would be better to go into Committee on the right hon. Gentleman's Bill, in order to see whether the Bill could be so shaped, with any Amendments that might be suggested on it, as to offer a thoroughly satisfactory settlement before going into the question as to certificates raised by his hon. Friend's Bill. Therefore he thought they would not lose any ground by postponing the Bill of his hon. Friend to the same day to which the other Bills were postponed, in order that they might have an opportunity of considering it again, in case they could not frame the right hon. Gentleman's Bill into a satisfactory measure.


said, he was prepared to follow the advice of his right hon. Friend, and would postpone the second reading.

Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Second Reading deferred till Wednesday 8th April.