§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. WILBRAHAM EGERTON
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second 43 time, said, that he regretted it was no longer in the charge of the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Salt). It was founded on the Report of a Select Committee; and the object of it was to amend the Church Building Acts, and the 77th section of the Pluralities Act, and thereby to facilitate the creation of new districts and the endowment of new churches in hamlets distant more than a mile from a licensed place of worship, and particularly in populous places, where the difficulty of obtaining the assent of some incumbents had paralyzed efforts to provide the accommodation and the services that were necessary to meet the requirements of the population. It was proposed to give to less wealthy congregations the powers conferred on a wealthy patron by the Private Patronage Act, the cost of which was not less than from £5,000 to £10,000. The Bishop had no power to enforce a 3rd or additional services, however much the congregation might require them. It was therefore proposed to call upon the incumbent to provide such additional services; and if, within six months, he refused to do so, to enable the applicants, on providing a stipend, to have a curate licensed by the Bishop for that purpose, in some building other than the parish church, and with such cure of souls as might be required by his congregation, at the discretion of the Bishop. Beyond that there was the graver case, where the incumbent performed his two weekly services, but utterly neglected his parish all the week. The Bishop of Ely, in his evidence, stated that a Bishop had no power to interfere in such cases. A case was mentioned in which a clergyman had been several times summoned to the County Court, had compounded with his creditors, and entirely neglected the interests of his parish; and it was said that this was a specimen of the kind of case one part of the Bill was intended to meet. It was therefore proposed in the Bill, where that habitual neglect was proved to the satisfaction of a commission, composed partly of laity and partly of clergy, the living should be sequestrated under the Pluralities Act. He did not believe it would place too much power in the hands of the Bishop; that could hardly be, for the power of the purse would be vested in the laymen, who would be appointed on the commission in each case in which the Act was put into operation. There 44 would be no interference with the parochial system, except where the right of parishioners were ignored or neglected. No schisms would be created, because no steps could be taken except on joint responsibility of Bishop and Archbishop. The Bishop was responsible for the cure of souls in his diocese, and he therefore must decide where a crying evil existed, what relaxation of the parochial system could be safely carried out. The Bill did not deal with cases in which there was a marked divergence of opinion as to the conduct of the services between the incumbents and the parishioners. One reason for this omission was, that if the power of building a new church was to be exercised, it would furnish an excuse to the incumbent for not attempting to meet the views of a majority of his parishioners. There were among the clergy, as in every other profession, "black sheep;" it was against them that this Bill was directed, and not against the great body of the clergy, whose zeal and earnestness he gladly acknowledged. Its object was to extend the parochial system, so as to meet the requirements of the time; that system did not exist alone for the benefit of the clergy, but for the laity. He would urge upon all those who wished well to the Church of England that it was desirable to promote judicious reforms, and it was in the humble endeavour to reform some abuses which had been proved before the Committee that he asked the House to read the Bill a second time.
§ MR BIRLEY
, in seconding the Motion, said, the Bill was one for enlarging and improving the spiritual ministrations of the Established Church. Its possible operation raised a question as between the multiplication of independent districts or parishes, and the employment of several curates by the incumbent of one large parish, and the former alternative seemed most likely to conduce to the efficiency of the various institutions connected with parochial churches.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Wilbraham Egerton.)
§ Mr. SAMPSON LLOYD
regretted to be compelled to put himself in opposition to the hon. Members in charge of the Bill; but he felt that it would seriously 45 impair the liberty of the laity; that it made a serious inroad on the parochial system, by giving more dominant and irresponsible power to the Bishops—the feeling of the laity on the subject being altogether ignored. He admitted that the parochial system needed more elasticity, but that might be obtained by Acts at present in force. Some of the proposed provisions were extremely objectionable. For instance, fire male persons resident for a year in the parish might set the Act in motion; one-fifth of the ratepayers would be nearer the mark. To give five persons such a power was certainly absurd. Some of the terms used also were very vague and ill-defined. It gave the Bishop certain powers if the incumbent did not perform the duties of his post; but who was to define what those duties were? In fact, the Bill gave arbitrary and irresponsible power to the Bishops. The Bill might easily be worked for purposes of annoyance and party spirit, and he felt bound to oppose the second reading.
§ MR. ASSHETON
said, the Bill was an. old friend with a new face, being in principle the same as that brought in by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Salt), and which, after discussion, was referred to a Select Committee, was reported, and then withdrawn. He thought this Bill would entail greater evils than those it proposed to remedy. He should regret anything that broke into our parochial system, which brought home the rites of the National Church to every man, woman, and child in the Realm. The principle of the measure was, however, the introduction of a clergyman into a parish against the wish of the incumbent. If the incumbent were willing that additional facilities for public worship should be provided, the best thing would be to strengthen his hands and assist him to obtain additional curates: if the incumbent, on the other hand, was unwilling or unable to discharge his clerical functions, Parliament ought, to speak plainly, to provide some means of turning him out of his living; but it certainly would be unwise to leave upon him all the responsibilities of performing his duties, whilst you introduced into his cure another clergyman who could simply do what he liked and leave undone what he liked. No doubt, they were all more or less agreed as to the principle, but the difficulty lay 46 in carrying out that principle. The Report of the Select Committee of last year was relied upon in support of this Bill, and it was said that this Committee was composed of all parties in the Church. The evidence given before the Committee was, however, very one-sided, for it magnified and exaggerated the evils of the Church. The Committee Room was like a Cave of Adullam, to which every one who had a grievance against the Church resorted, so that the Committee heard not the bright, but the dark side. The Bill was specially objectionable, as it would affect the independence of the clergy. He trusted the House would not make the Church in every parish in the country a "house divided against itself," but would refuse to give the Bill a second reading.
§ And it being a quarter of an hour before Six of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till To-morrow.