HC Deb 16 July 1872 vol 212 cc1290-7

Order for Committee read.


said, as Notice had been given of an Amendment to the Motion that Mr. Speaker should leave the Chair in order that the House might consider this Bill in Committee, he though it expedient to state that the notion in favour of free seats was growing. That notion was not confined to any section in the Church. By the old common law the Church was free to all the parishioners; but the churchwardens had the right of assigning seats according to the requirements of the different parishioners. In the dearth of Church building, proprietary chapels grew up, and, as they were commercial ventures, they had to be kept up somehow, and the only way of maintaining them was by levying pew rents. The Acts of 38 & 39 George III. were accordingly passed on the subject of those seat rents. These Acts were amended in the reign of William IV., and also by the famous Peel Act, passed 26 or 27 years ago. But some of the details of these Acts required that any person who built a new church should vest it in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. In order to find a legal freeholder, churches had to be vested in the Ecclesiastical Commissioners; but they were precluded by musty Acts, passed under a different state of society, from accepting sites given under the condition that the seats should be free and unappropriated for ever. The Marquess of Westminster had been anxious for such a condition in the case of a site given by him near that House, and another munificent layman in that of a site near the Exhibition building; but it was found impracticable, and the churches had to be consecrated without it. The Bill would remedy this anomaly; and Clause 3, which was not necessarily involved in the rest of the measure, would allow churchwardens to put strangers at the commencement of the service into seats which otherwise would be empty.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. Beresford Hope.)


said, he was opposed to the 3rd clause of the Bill, which would empower churchwardens at the commencement of the service to put strangers into seats that might have been occupied by the owners if they had not been late. The Bill was meddlesome, needless, and insidious. He denied that the Commissioners could not accept sites on the condition that the seats should be free, and it was not unlawful, though it was unusual, to put strangers into seats rented and usually occupied by parishioners. It would not conduce to the orderly conduct of the service for seatholders happening to be a few minutes late to find their places occupied by strangers, and there was always a readiness to offer strangers seats which would otherwise be vacant. He objected to the extension of the Bill to existing churches, some of which were supported by pew-rents, and he deprecated a universal system of open seats, with money taken at the doors for maintaining the services. He begged to move that the House should go into Committee upon this Bill on that day three months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon this day three months, resolve itself into the said Committee,—(Mr. Donald Dalrymple,)—instead thereof.

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


suggested that the difficulties pointed out by the hon. Member who had just down might be removed if the Member who had charge of the Bill (Mr. B. Hope) would consent to a delay of five minutes after the commencement of the service being accorded to those who possessed pews in a church before their seats were given to other persons.


said, he was willing to accede to the suggestion.


wished to know what was to be done in churches where there were no churchwardens? It would not be seemly to keep persons waiting with their watches in their hands to see if the time allowed had elapsed.


thought the object of the Bill a laudable one. It was undesirable that people should come late to church; but there ought to be some limit as to the time allowed. He had given Notice of an Amendment to the effect that the seats should be given away after the commencement of the First Lesson, but would not press it if the Committee should be of opinion that five minutes was the proper time.


said, that almost the only protection a Churchman had was the seclusion of his own pew. What protection would he have against eccentricities which might be introduced into the Church? If this Bill should be carried, the old-fashioned church-goers would be deprived of the seclusion which they had hitherto enjoyed, and the adhesion to the Church of a large class of the community would be endangered.


said, he did not agree with those who wished to do away with pew-rents, which he considered a legitimate source of remuneration to the clergy. He did not sympathise with those who wanted to do away with the Protestant character of the Church of England. At the same time, as a churchwarden, he had seen many inconveniences arising from the difficulty of putting persons into seats, and if the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. D. Dalrymple) would allow the Bill to go into Committee a modification of the clause might be adopted.


regarded that as an attempt to turn the House into a sort of lay Convocation. The Bill, however important it might be to Churchmen, was not one of any Imperial importance; and it stood in the way of legislation of a pressing nature. If its 3rd clause had emanated from a Dissenter, it would have been characterized as a measure of spoliation, as it proposed to lay violent hands on pews which had long been bought and sold.


maintained, in spite of what had been said by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. D. Dalrymple), that the law of the land did not allow the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to receive sites for churches in regard to which it was a condition that all the seats should be free. This Bill would remove that difficulty. Under faculties obtained from Bishops, particular pews in parish churches ran either with the person or with the house; but they were not transferable, and were in no sense property. With respect to unoccupied seats, was it not perfectly monstrous that people should assume a dog-in-the-manger position, and neither go to church themselves nor let others go? Were they to have a large staff of clergymen with great endowments, and yet allow persons to assert the right to keep the pews empty during the whole of the service? He hoped the House would go into Committee and modify the Bill if necessary.


thought the Bill was a useful one; but he wished to know how the incumbents of churches, all the seats of which were to be free, were to be supported? He thought some provision should be inserted for securing their maintenance to the satisfaction of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.


said, there was a great demand for the Bill, for there could be no doubt that accommodation for the humbler classes in the Church of England was lamentably deficient.


trusted the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. D. Dalrymple) would allow the Bill to go into Committee without a division. As to the 3rd clause, he should prefer to leave churchwardens free to make their own arrangements as to the time at which strangers should be admitted to seats, and he thought it would be better to trust to the influence of public opinion rather than to put stringent rules in an Act of Parliament.


said, he was willing to accept the limit of five minutes which had been suggested, but that would be in effect a restriction upon the discretion of the churchwardens. With regard to the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Lincoln (Mr. Hinde Palmer), he believed it was the practice not to consecrate churches until an endowment had been provided.


considered the Bill to be imperfectly drawn, and that the termination of the 2nd clause would encourage the Bishop of the diocese to establish a scale of pew-rents. It was possible that a stranger might insist upon occupying an allotted seat, and no provision was made in the Bill for preventing such a difficulty.


hoped the hon. Member for Bath would press his Amendment to a division, for he had never seen a measure which reflected more discredit on its framers than this. It was monstrous that Parliament should be called upon to legislate as to whether a man should enter his pew five or ten minutes after the commencement of the service, and he hoped the House would not support the Bill. If they were to have free churches let pew-rents be abolished; but this Bill pretended to give with once clause what it took away with another.


, as one of the Members for Lancashire, wished to state that there was a strong feeling in the county in favour of freer access to churches than could be obtained at present. He could not support the 3rd clause, but he must vote for going into Committee on the Bill.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 89; Noes 46: Majority 43.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clause 2 (Ecclesiastical Commissioners may accept a church site under a grant in which it is declared that pews or seats shall not be let).

MR. D. DALRYMPLE moved the omission of the proviso permitting pew-rents in certain cases, and with the consent of the persons interested.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, to leave out from the word "money," in line 18, to the end of the Clause.—(Mr. Donald Dalrymple.)

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


accepted the Amendment.


supported the proviso on the ground that in large towns in the North the people were of an independent spirit, and preferred paying a small sum for seats, and that without such payment it was impossible to maintain some churches.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 42; Noes 93: Majority 51.

Clause, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 3 (As to unoccupied seats).

MR. CRAWFORD moved, in line 27, the omission of the words fixing the time when the pews of a church may be filled up by others than the usual occupants—namely, "when the clergyman begins the service," in order to add words at the end of the clause which would leave such filling up to be made "under such arrangement as the incumbents and churchwardens may prescribe for that purpose."


said, that this clause was beyond the purview of the Bill, which was a Bill sent down from "another place" for the purpose of assigning the conditions upon which certain new churches were to be built. The whole intention of the Bill was prospective up to the 3rd clause; but the 3rd clause entirely departed from the prospective principle, and became retrospective in its operation, and proposed to destroy the rights by usage, by faculty, by payment, and by custom which had existed for centuries in some of the parish churches, and which had been acquired recently by payment by some of the proprietary.


had an Amendment on the Paper, which he would move at the proper time. He thought it would be much better if the Committee would settle some plan in the Bill which would be of general application, but a reasonable time should be allowed to elapse before the pews were filled up.


believed that the arrangements as regards seats had never devolved on the incumbent, but had always been left to churchwardens. He, however, thought it would be best to declare that the vacant seats should be filled 10 minutes after the beginning of the service.


agreed with the remark of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) that the clause was beyond the purview of the Bill. If proprietary rights were dealt with, it should be done by a Bill brought in with that view.


observed that this clause formed no part of the original Bill, and had no sort of connection with it. In its present form it would, he believed, inflict great hardship.


thought it would be necessary to define what service was meant, whether morning, afternoon, or evening.


hoped the clause, as not strictly within the Preamble of the Bill, would be withdrawn. At the same time, he thought the appropriation of seats in some parish churches was a great grievance and scandal.


said, he was prepared to withdraw his Amendment.


objected to the withdrawal of the Amendment, which would, in fact, prevent the clause being put. The clause was not inconsistent with the title, and might be consistent with the Preamble of the Bill.


said, that, as a Churchman, he was truly ashamed they should have spent more than an hour in discussing such a question as this.


recommended that the clause should not be pressed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


, with a view to limiting the operation of the clause to the churches named in the Bill, proposed to insert after "all" the word "such."


appealed to the Chairman whether the clause was consistent with the full title of the Bill?


said, it was quite competent for the Committee to treat the clause as part of the Bill.


said, they had better amend the clause, and then consider whether they would accept it. If the word "parish" were inserted, it would make the clause consistent with the title. If the Amendment were rejected, he should move the insertion of the word "parish."


said, the drift of the debate was adverse to the clause, which he would sacrifice rather than risk the Bill; but he would prefer to retain the clause and to make it to apply to "all ancient parish churches."


said, the word "parish" was about the worst that could be used.


said, it would require an archæologist to determine what was an ancient parish church.

Amendment and Clause negatived.

Preamble agreed to.

Bill reported, with Amendments; as amended, to be considered upon Thursday.