HC Deb 16 February 1875 vol 222 cc397-409

Order for Second Reading read.


in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, it was identical with the Bill which he introduced last Session, but which he was unable to proceed with on account of the time of the House being taken up with Government affairs; and further it was similar to the Bill which passed through the House in 1873, but which, owing to some misunderstanding, was lost in its passage through the House of Lords. It differed from the Bill of 1873 in some important points. He had omitted altogether the clause relating to chapels in private houses. He had omitted it in deference to the views expressed by some Members of the Upper House. Peers had peculiar, but not very well defined privileges with respect to private chaplains and chapels. It might seem somewhat strange that persons connected with the Peerage, and possessing large property, should have ecclesiastical privileges simply because they were Members of the Peerage. Other persons being only commoners, had estates and households as large or larger than those of any Peer. If they felt aggrieved, he could offer them some comfort. They had a large choice of religions. He could inform them, having paid attention to the subject for some years, that there was not a form of religion amongst the hundreds in the world which men might not practise with perfect liberty in their own homes, with the exception of the worship of the Church of England. He would now proceed to say a few words as to the difficulties for which he proposed in the present Bill to provide a remedy, and he could not better explain them than by quoting a passage from a Charge which was delivered in 1872 by one of the most eloquent of our Bishops. The Bishop of Peterborough, in speaking on that occasion of the great activity which existed throughout the Church generally, expressed a wish that he could say as much of every parish in his diocese, that there were in it no neglected parishes, no slothful or incompetent clergymen. There are," he added, "parishes among us which are a disgrace to the diocese and the despair of the Bishop; clergymen who neither do their duty nor allow anyone else to do it for them; who strain to the utmost those legal rights of our parochial system which are designed to protect the clergyman in his work, and not from it; and who contrive by virtue of these to make, in spite of parishioners or Bishop, their parishes very Gideons fleeces, dry as summer dust, while all around them may be watered with the dews of reviving life. Such was the rebuke of one of the most eminent Prelates on the Episcopal Bench—a truly hard-working Bishop. There was a letter published some two years ago by a clergyman resident in the metropolis, in which he stated that in the parish in which he lived there were fully 100,000 inhabitants, and church accommodation for about 18,000. The Dissenting chapels would hold about 12,000 more, and after deducting the 20,000 persons who were too old or too young to attend, there were probably 50,000 persons unprovided for in church or chapel. Of these, perhaps, 25,000 would attend if suitable accommodation were provided. The writer went on to make a very good suggestion to the effect that, as there were a great many clergymen employed in the parish in schools, and as professors, lecturers, or tutors, and in various other ways, who had Sundays at their disposal, their services might be made available for additional Sunday services. But what made this simple and sensible plan impossible? It was in the power of the incumbent to suppress every meeting for public worship conducted according to the forms of the Church of England, while he had no power to interfere with the propagation of Romanism, Dissent, Infidelity, or Red Republicanism. He (Mr. Salt) would now refer to a letter from a gentleman living in a country parish. He said that the village and the larger portion of the population were two and a half miles from the parish church—so that, with the exception of two or three landowners who could avail themselves of carriage conveyance, not a soul ever attended Divine Service there. The writer went on to state that the poor of the parish especially were subjected to the caprice and indolence of an incumbent who held very extreme opinions, and if such a Bill as the present were to become law the wants of the parish would be supplied by the erection of places affording adequate accommodation for public worship. The writer added— I can afford abundant evidence of the good effect which Divine Service has produced here in former years, when I then fitted up a dwelling-house for the purpose, and a clergyman was permitted to do week-day duty in this parish. Now, that evidence, he thought, was sufficient to show that there existed some need for interference on the part of the Legislature. There was a curious state of the law as matters now stood, in accordance with which, supposing an incumbent of a parish who was a really zealous man had established a small school or public service in any part of his parish where he might think the population stood in need of special attention, that service might go on very well during his incumbency, but might be stopped in the event of his removal from the parish by his successor without any reason whatsoever being assigned, and although the parishioners might be willing to pay for an additional clergyman. He would now attempt to show how his Bill would deal with the difficulty. It was practically divided into two portions. The first clause provided that where a service had been established by an incumbent, or with his consent, it should not of necessity cease on the incumbency becoming void—that was, should not cease unless the Bishop's license said that it should. Another part of the Bill would be much more debated—that relating to the cases in which the Bishop's authority was brought to bear. A certain number of parishioners—namely, 25—who wanted a service established in a particular part of a parish might go the Bishop and apply for the license for a minister. In this matter the interests of the incumbent were strictly guarded. As soon as the Bishop received the requisition he would have to ascertain for himself whether the additional service was absolutely necessary, and also, if it was, whether the incumbent was unwilling or unable to provide the service required. In case the incumbent was either unable or unwilling to provide such service, the Bishop would give notice of his intention to license a clergyman for the duty, and state who the clergyman was to be, after which the appointment would be made in due course. But there was a provision enabling either the Bishop, the incumbent, or the parishioners, to refer the whole matter to a Commission, consisting of the rural dean or archdeacon as chairman, a clergyman and layman nominated by the incumbent, and another clergyman and layman nominated by the parishioners, who should inquire into the case, and upon their report the license should issue or not issue. Several objections had been made to the Bill. Amongst other things, it had been said that this Bill would be an infringement of the parochial system. Now, what was the parochial system? Such an inquiry presented unusual difficulties, not only from the complexity of Ecclesiastical Law, but from the fact that the opinions of ecclesiastical lawyers themselves were generally at total variance with each other. He had never been able in his experience to find two persons who agreed on the subject. If he went to one ecclesiastical lawyer and told him he had just consulted another, he was sure to be told that the other gentleman knew nothing about it. But with respect to the parochial system, he found in Burns's Ecclesiastical Law a remarkably clear statement—namely, There is no general principle of ecclesiastical law more firmly established than this—that it is not competent to any clergyman to officiate within the limits of a parish without the consent of the incumbent thereof. Whether that was good law he could not say; but he had no doubt that it embodied the general idea underlying the parochial system. Now, so far from being the first person to infringe this principle, which some people seemed to hold as almost sacred, he was only following in the wake of a series of Acts of Parliament which had been passed during the last 40 years. However dear the parochial system might be to clergymen themselves, there was no doubt it had proved very inconvenient to laymen, as was shown by the long-continued struggle of Parliament to limit its stringency. About the year 1824 an Act was passed for the appointment of chaplains of gaols, without reference to the incumbent, and simply by the license of a Bishop. In 1830 Parliament passed the Church Building Act, which also set aside the incumbent, merely allowing him power to make a statement of his objections. In 1834 an Act was passed for the appointment of chaplains of unions, again without reference to the incumbent. In 1863 an Act was passed with regard to services in Wales which was specially framed to prevent interference on the incumbent's part. Again, in 1868, an Army Bill was passed, which disposed of the incumbent by the ingenious device of marking off a space which was to be regarded as extra-parochial, and within which services could be held. An anecdote had once been related to him that a Volunteer officer, who had assembled his men for a Sunday service, to be performed by their own chaplain, was interrupted by the rector of the parish. The officer, without staying to argue, simply marched his regiment into the next parish, where the neighbouring incumbent was more complaisant. The Public Schools Act, passed the same year—1868—withdrew public school chapels from the jurisdiction of incumbents; and in 1869 the Endowed Schools Act was passed with similar provisions. Then, in 1871, the Private Chapels Act removed from the jurisdiction of incumbents chapels belonging to all public and charitable institutions. But the Act to which he desired to call particular attention, and which he thought must have been overlooked by those persons who accused him of infringing the parochial system, was the Private Patronage Act, 14 & 15 Vict. c. 97. This Act empowered the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to establish a church with only the consent of the Diocesan, and without reference to the incumbent at all. In effect, that Act absolutely overrode the incumbent altogether. But it was necessary under that Act that persons seeking additional church accommodation should— Provide (a) a permanent church to be approved by the Board, (b) an endowment of £100 at least, and (c) a small repair fund of £150 or £200. He was quoting from a letter of the Commissioners. He had referred to the Act, and believed that a church might be built under that Act without having any district assigned to it. What this Act did for men of large means, his Bill, to a certain extent, proposed to do for men of moderate means, and of a humbler rank of life. The Church ought to be the Church of the poor as well as of the rich. Other objections had been made to the Bill. It was said by some persons that the Bill would establish Nonconformity; but he was quite at a loss to see how it could have that effect. Nonconformity practically was established and endowed already. It had established and endowed itself. And why? Because the restrictions under the existing law were so great that large bodies of men burst through the bonds they were unable to enlarge. The Bill would have the contrary effect of providing Church of England services for those who were now compelled either to live without religious services altogether or to resort to those provided by Nonconformist bodies. Somebody else argued that the Bill would establish congregational worship, and said—" You are going to establish a chapel in every parish in the kingdom." If this were necessary, it would be requisite to pass a far more drastic and stringent measure than the quiet, cautious, and frequently-considered Bill which he now asked the House to adopt. He noticed that objection, not because it was a sound or strong objection, but because it had been urged by men of considerable ability, and his answer to it was this—" If you say this Bill is to establish a chapel in every parish, how extremely rotten the whole system must be. All laymen must be in a state of semi-revolt against their pastors. I, who advocate this measure, do not say I am going to establish a chapel in every parish in the kingdom. I say the effect of the Bill in that way will be very small. I only profess to deal with certain cases of neglect, and these cases are extremely few." Another point to which he would call attention was as to what had been the opinions of the Bishops and clergy on the subject. Now, this Bill had almost the unanimous assent of the Episcopal Bench. With regard to the clergy, his own impression was that there was a slight majority of the clergy in favour of the measure. They were, perhaps, about equally divided. On one occasion last year, at a clerical meeting, when the question was discussed, the votes on both sides were even. However, on that subject he had some evidence from a very good source. Some time ago a gentleman was kind enough to send him particulars of a discussion which took place at a rural deanery—he would not say what rural deanery. At that meeting there were 14 persons present, and the result of their consideration of this Bill was that, by a majority of 8 to 6, they passed a resolution to the effect— That considering how greatly Mr. Salt's Bill interferes with the parochial system, affects the position of incumbents, and risks the introduction of division and strife into parishes, this Chapter cannot approve the provisions' of the said Bill. If the gentlemen who voted for this proposition had watched the progress of ecclesiastical law during the past 40 years, and had also examined the provisions of his Bill, they would have seen that endless Acts of Parliament had been passed which more or less interfered with the parochial system—some of them cutting away its principle altogether—and that his measure did not propose or attempt to do anything of the kind. Then it was said that the measure affected the position of the incumbents; but those who said so could scarcely have read the Bill. How did it affect the position of the incumbents? It did not touch their revenues in a single iota; it did not interfere with their rights and privileges in going about among the parishioners; it did not interfere with the incumbent in the least with respect either to the revenues or to the performance of his pastoral duties; because before a Bishop could issue a license under the Bill he must ascertain whether the incumbent was actually performing, or was willing to perform, his duty and supply services of which the parish had need. The Bill would only interfere with the right of the incumbent to do wrong by neglecting his duty, and no one could reasonably oppose the measure on that ground. Lastly, it was said that the measure would lead to division and strife in the parishes. Well, there were abundant instances of strife and division in the parishes; but this measure was one which would rather heal than create sores. It was an attempt to realise the wish of the late Rev. Sidney Smith, and raise "the English clergy to the privilege of Dissenters." What was their position at present? His friend who had sent him the report and resolution of his ruri-decanal meeting could never have read or heard of the following passage, which recently appeared in a well-known Review, and which was an extract from a Review published early in the present century:— In any parish of England any layman or clergyman, by paying 6d., can open a place of worship, provided it be not the worship of the Church of England. If he wishes to attack the doctrines of the Bishop or the incumbent, he is not compelled to ask the consent of any person; but if by any evil chance he should he persuaded of the truth of those doctrines, and build a chapel or mount a pulpit to support them, he is instantly put in the Spiritual Court, for the incumbent, who has a legal monopoly of this doctrine, does not choose to suffer any interloper; and without his consent it is illegal to preach the doctrines of the Church within his precincts. The object and intention of this Bill was to deal with spiritual neglect, and with wide or crowded parishes. He should have liked to stop at that point, but was bound to say something more. There was another point pressed upon him both by his friends and his opponents, which did not actually relate to spiritual neglect in parishes, but to a very different matter. He was bound more or less to answer the question—" How does this Bill affect rival parties in the Church?" Well, this Bill, as he had already said, was not brought in in any party spirit; its honest and clear intention being to deal simply with spiritual neglect in parishes. At the same time, he felt bound to acknowledge what had often been repeated to him—that this Bill might be used for the purposes of party warfare. But to whatever uses the Bill might be put, it was in itself absolutely impartial. Any person, of any opinion whatever—whether High Church or Low Church, or any other Church—was equally at liberty to make use of the measure. It would be difficult for its provisions to be used for party purposes, because the sole duty of a Bishop, when applied to to put the clauses of the Act in force, was to ascertain whether the services asked for were necessary for the good of the parish. He would go a step further and ask whether, even supposing the Bill were occasionally used for party purposes, that would not be, on the whole, better than the present system. In a parish well-known to himself, there were two churches served by the same clergyman. In one church the service was plain and old-fashioned, in the other it was very ornate. Peace and friendship had almost invariably reigned in that parish. Each service was a safety valve for the legitimate desires of certain of the parishioners. Men of experience were of opinion that in dealing with the parochial system attention should be paid to the nature of clerical appointments. A man who was extremely young and very indifferently educated, and wholly with-out experience, might be appointed to some parish which required great energy, great tact, and great knowledge. Once appointed, however objectionable his conduct might be to the parishioners, however near he might go to a violation of the Ecclesiastical Law, however he might fail in character and morals, it was almost impossible to remove him. In a case of that kind, would it not be far better, instead of, as often happened, driving away the parishioners into other parishes or into forms of worship which from their habits, education, and tastes they disliked, to give them an opportunity, at least for a temporary period, of carrying on worship agreeably to their opinions? The liberty of doing so was enjoyed in the fullest degree in every other religious community. He had endeavoured by this Bill to provide a remedy for an evil which, he believed, he had shown to exist in certain cases. He asked for the members of his own religious community that liberty which, as he had said, was enjoyed by every other religious community in this country—namely, the liberty of carrying on their own worship according to their own consciences. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving that the Bill be read a second time.


in seconding the Motion, expressed his opinion that the Bill of his hon. Friend was in accordance with the comprehensive character of the Church of England. It had received the approval of a large number of Prelates and of many thoughtful clergymen. It would produce union rather than strife in parishes, and would maintain and strengthen what he believed was the best part of our parochial system. The consideration which most induced him to support this Bill was that it would give scope for the various kinds of thought which existed in the Church of England. In London and other large towns, where free and ample expression was given to those varieties of thought, that odium theologicum which was so strong in country districts was very rare. He read some time ago of a watering-place at the South of England where the population were armed against each other, and old friendships broken up on account of the position of the organ in the parish church; and near his own parish a dispute with reference to the position of the pulpit ended in a Commission to inquire into the veracity of the rector, which Commission was presided over by a county Member, whose verdict in favour of the clergyman produced a contest at the last election. In country districts such quarrels were inevitable. There were facilities for their weekly recurrence, and the irritation was never allowed to subside. As his hon. Friend had observed, Nonconfor- mists were allowed to build chapels as they liked; restrictions were put only on members of the Church of England. The result of the present restrictions was that free churches of England had been established in several towns. His own conviction was, that if some such measure as that now proposed should not be passed, the process of disestablishment would be greatly facilitated. What they really wanted were Churches of Refuge, where those persons who did not agree with the incumbent's mode of conducting the services might have preaching and ceremonies with which they could sympathize. He trusted that hon. Members on both sides of the House who looked upon the Church, not merely as the vehicle of their own views, but as a great national institution, would relieve her of those cumbrous restrictions, which breathed the spirit that had deprived the Church of the followers of Wesley, and which were now driving away many earnest men who felt and knew that there was a place for them in her territory but declined to be tied down to the monopoly, or it might be called the infallibility for particular incumbent. He trusted that by affirming this Bill the House would allow the Church that fair field and full play for energy and zeal now only enjoyed by those who rejected her communion.

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


said, he had opposed with considerable energy the Bill which his hon. Friend (Mr. Salt) introduced on a former occasion on this subject. He did not propose to take that course with regard to this Bill. He thought the Bill previously introduced was a dangerous Bill. His hon. Friend had very much modified it, and the machinery of the Bill would thereby be made to work much bettor. He did not agree with the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir H. Drummond Wolff) in saying that the churches we needed were "Churches of Refuge;" refuge meant shelter from something evil, and he could not look on any form of worship in the light of evil. The Bill had been modified vitally in the clause which gave the incumbent the option of providing the desired services. The Bishop, too, had antecedently to make up his own mind whether the services in question were, or were not, wanted. Then, the incumbent had the choice himself of providing them. This provision would, he believed, very much relieve the Bill from the character it formerly possessed, when it appeared to present a pistol at the head of the incumbent. Another concession which his hon. Friend had made was that when a matter came to trial the Commission was to be composed of five members, of whom the Bishop had only the appointing of one, and that one had been limited to the existing category of archdeacons and rural deans, while the remainder were equally divided between incumbent and parishioners. There was a further improvement in the Bill in the omission of the clause for creating a special privileged class of private chapels. He did not think that the existence of the privilege of the Peerage was any reason for creating a privilege of plutocracy, which the Bill of last year would have done. There were, however, points omitted which, he thought, had much altered the Bill for the worse. When the measure first came before the House it contained a special prohibition against the celebration of marriage being one of the items which the Episcopal licence would include; but there was no such prohibition now, and he thought the creation of what might prove to be almost clandestine places for the celebration of marriages would do no good to anybody. Therefore, he trusted that at some future stage of the Bill the former prohibition as to the celebration of marriages would be re-inserted. What was wanted was not fresh marriage stations, but opportunities of public worship. People need not always be marrying and giving in marriage, having the banns put up, and all that sort of thing. Again, the Bill, as it formerly stood, contained the following clause:— No seat shall be let for hire, and no fee shall be charged for admission in any chapel or building wherein Divine service is celebrated under this Act. This was a valuable provision, as it excluded the commercial element from the Bill. The measure would not be worked on the old system of proprietary chapels, of which he had hoped everybody was ashamed, and which now only existed as remanets in a few corners of London. A return to such a system would be intolerable. It might perhaps be argued that the Bishop could prevent this, but how could he? A chapel might be licensed and an excellent clergyman procured; but if both ends did not meet the persons interested would go to the Bishop and say—" If you won't let us have pew-rents we will shut up shop and drop the whole affair." It would require a very strong-minded Bishop to reply—" Shut up shop, then, and be bankrupt." He hoped the clause prohibiting pew-rents would be re-introduced when the Bill was in the Committee stage. If pew-rents and marriages were prohibited, if the time for giving notices were revised, and if a fair consideration were given to the minimum number of persons entitled to petition for the privileges to be accorded, he thought the Bill might be safely sent to "another place," where those persons sat who, from their position, were even more familiar than Members of the House of Commons with such questions. If the Bill produced dissension in parishes he should be very sorry; but he gave his hon. Friend credit for endeavouring to prevent that result. Most people, he believed, agreed that in the broad and comprehensive Church of England there ought to be a certain elasticity of worship; and if the present measure increased elasticity without introducing flabbiness, it was desirable to pass it. Therefore, he would not on this occasion interpose such opposition as he had offered to the Bill in previous years, when it was submitted to the House in another form.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Tuesday next.