HC Deb 04 July 1877 vol 235 cc772-82

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that its provisions had been considerably modified in deference to the opinions which were expressed last year. It was then urged that the Bill would be a great interference with the parochial system, and that its effect would be to set up a rival clergyman in every parish. The Bill, therefore, had been modified so as to maintain intact the great principle of the parochial system, for no one was more attached than he was to that system. The Bill proposed that no clergyman should be appointed under it without a definite territorial limit being assigned within which his ministrations should be confined. The Bill did not affect the quality of the services so much as the quantity, or, in other words, the deficiency of spiritual ministrations throughout the country. The parochial system professed to provide religious ministrations for the whole community; but, at the present time, it could not be said that it covered the whole spiritual field of the country. New districts were being formed, parishes were becoming so largely populated that it became necessary to subdivide them; but, notwithstanding, there was an immense population which the parochial system did not reach, and it was to provide such population with the means of religious instruction that the Bill had been introduced. The main object of the Bill was to amend the Church Building Acts. These Acts, although of a complicated nature, had greatly increased the number of churches, but there were blots which required to be removed, and defects which remained to be supplied. The Bill would enable a patron to build a church, if he obtained the consent of the Bishop, the consent of the incumbent not being necessary. It was also proposed to give the inhabitants of a poor district that which the inhabitants of a rich district at present possessed under the Patronage Act, of providing for their own spiritual wants—


I rise to Order. Is it competent to the hon. Gentleman to read every word of his speech?


The hon. Member is not entitled to read his speech; but he can refer to his notes to refresh his memory.


proceeded to explain the provisions of the Bill, and said, that at present, whenever an additional chapel was needed, the opposition of the incumbent could stop the whole proceeding. The Bill, therefore, proposed that the Bishop, either of his own motion or on the application of the inhabitants, should have the right of calling on the incumbent of a parish to provide sufficiently for the spiritual necessities of the district. If that were not done within three months the Bishop might appoint a Commission to inquire into the subject, and if their recommendation were favourable to the providing of further facilities for Divine worship, he would act upon it. The first duty was to see that a satisfactory stipend was provided for the clergyman, and the Bishop would then assign to him a conventional district. The patronage was to be vested in those who should provide the funds. A great deal of evidence had been taken by the Committee which had been appointed to inquire into the spiritual wants of the country, and since that Committee reported, a Committee had been also appointed by Convocation to examine the same subject. It appeared from the evidence of Canon Gregory that, notwithstanding all the work done during the last 30 years, within which no fewer than 2,000 churches had been built, the church accommodation had only kept pace with the growth of the population. In 1841 there was one incumbent to 1,095 of the population; in 1871 there was one incumbent to 1,097. In his opinion, it was decidedly necessary that these deficiencies should be supplied, if the Church of England was to deserve the name of the National Church. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners might object to this Bill on the ground that it interfered with their province; but, as a matter of fact, those Commissioners had no means of knowing the requirements of particular districts in regard to spiritual administration, and he did not think that the Bill in any way interfered with their legitimate functions. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.

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


in moving the Previous Question, said, he had carefully compared this Bill with the Bill of last year, and he could not find in it one substantial alteration. In fact, what few alterations had been made did not make any serious difference between this Bill and the Bill of last year. He was astonished to hear the hon. Member say the Bill did not interfere with the parochial system, and that he himself was anxious to maintain it. Why, the principle of that system was the spiritual independence of the incumbent in his parish; and there could not be a more unquestionable interference with that system than that contained in the 2nd clause, whereby it was provided that the Bishop of a diocese, if he had reason to believe it would be expedient to provide in any parish additional facilities for the performance of Divine worship, might licence a clergyman to officiate in that parish without the sanction of the incumbent. That he regarded as utterly and entirely contrary to the parochial system. There was not time that Session to discuss properly a Bill proposing such a great innovation. Appointment by popular election might be good or bad; but it was not the method of the Church of England. The Bill did not provide that the clergyman appointed should undertake any duty. It amounted to this—that if a small knot of people got the permission of the Bishop, they might appoint a sort of privateer parson to prey on a parish, getting as much as he could from the rich, but not bound to do anything for the poor, and leaving the real work of the parish to the incumbent. The Bill did not sufficiently define habitual neglect; and if an incumbent were guilty of it, why should he not be removed, instead of a fresh clergyman being appointed? Nor were the provisions as to the stipend and other matters at all satisfactory. There were many other considerations and difficulties which suggested themselves in connection with the subject; and, upon the whole, he did not think that a Bill referring to matters of such importance ought to be taken up at so late a period of the Session. There was not sufficient time to think out all the details, and to put the measure into a workable shape. As, however, he did not altogether disapprove the objects the promoters of the Bill had in view, he did not move its rejection, but he would move the Previous Question instead.


seconded the Amendment. He entirely agreed with the last speaker in thinking the Bill an invasion of the rights of the incumbent. He considered the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Egerton) had not adopted the right mode for remedying the evils which existed by attempting to interfere with the parochial system. If the duties of a parish were not properly performed, it would be reasonable to give the Bishop power to call on the incumbent to appoint a curate; but in such case he should be appointed merely as an additional curate, and should have no right to interfere with the incumbent. The real object of the measure was not far to seek. What was intended by it was simply this—that whenever a certain number of parishioners held either very high Church views or very low Church views, and wished to have a particular ritual, they should be allowed to go to the Bishop and say—" Give us a clergyman who shall perform the service as we desire." He hoped that Parliament would not sanction a Bill of this description.

Previous Question proposed, "That that Question be now put."—(Mr. Assheton.)


in supporting the Bill, said, he must, at once, emphatically repudiate the explanation just given by the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) of the object aimed at by the Bill. In his (Mr. Birley's) opinion the Bishops would prefer to meet eases of neglect in the way provided by the Bill, instead of taking steps against incumbents. He desired to impress upon the House the urgent necessity of passing some measure of the kind. He, therefore, hoped the second reading would be passed, because, although it might be impossible to get the Bill through that Session, its progress next year would be facilitated. He was a Member of the Committee that sat on the Bill, when the whole circumstances were discussed. Until recently, before a church was built, an Act of Parliament was often necessary; but, by the 29th of Geo. III., facilities were given to build churches in populous districts. He submitted that the Church of England, as a national Church, ought to provide accommodation for its people in their attendance at Divine worship. It was notorious there were many instances of populous parishes the incumbents of which, for various reasons, would not assent to arrangements that were obviously necessary; and this Bill would meet such cases without necessitating the building of new churches, and by allowing licensed rooms to be used. The Bill bristled with safeguards, and would not make any appointment permanent. At all events, it would interfere far less with the parochial system, and would be less detrimental to the Church of England than the custom of allowing the ground to be occupied by Dissenting chapels, to the disadvantage of the national Church.


supported the Previous Question, which he considered to be the proper way of treating with contempt all discussions in regard to the clergy of the Church of England until some better understanding had been arrived at as to the position which the public held in regard to that body, and until some kind of remedy had been discovered for practices of a most objectionable character which were being now carried on. At the present time, the clergy of the Church of England appeared to be a class of men who were not to be reasoned with. There were men amongst them who degraded their profession, who practised that which they had sworn not to practise, and who opposed and endeavoured to counteract all those principles which they were paid to support. Such men ought to be put down, if not dispensed with altogether. Look, for example, at that abominable book, The Priest in Absolution, which had so startled the country, and the position of the authorities of the Church in regard to it. Why, great ecclesiastical dignitaries who were not inadequately remunerated, and who were supposed to be occupied specially with the discipline of the Church, had only yesterday asserted that the volume in question had been for the first time brought to their knowledge. Those reverend gentlemen pretended to have been in ignorance up to that period of a book which had so ingrained itself into the practice of a large section of the clergy, that a man of the name of Mackonochie had said that the volume was no longer necessary, that he did not want it, that he had practised for five-and-twenty years what it contained. He considered that was a great scandal.

He apprehended that public opinion would demand that some remedy should be applied to the evil which existed in the Church through the practices inculcated in the book referred to. In the meantime, he thanked the hon. Member for Clitheroe (Mr. Assheton) for moving the Previous Question, which amounted to this—that the House would not condescend to discuss any question relating to the Church and the clergy until the matters to which he referred had been satisfactorily dealt with.


said, he felt certain that he represented the feeling of the House in taking up the question at the point which it had reached previously to the last speaker. It was always either too early or too late to discuss a measure they did not like; but the condition of the Order Book was probably fatal to the chance of the Bill this Session. He should, nevertheless, support the second reading, and regretted that his hon. Friend had fallen on such evil days in bringing it forward at a time when those who guided the ark of the State were not present, and when those who guided it a short time ago were absent also. The question was one that called for the most serious consideration. The Bill was excellently intended, and dealt with a deficiency which all acknowledged, yet he should be sorry to see it become law in its present state, more especially if it contained the provision which would remorselessly saddle the clergyman with a conventional district. This compulsion confounded the ideas of worship with which the measure dealt, and of pastoral charge. The Bill to some extent provided a safety-valve for tolerated differences of opinion in the Church, whether affecting doctrine or ceremonial, which was a point to which he attached much importance, as a provision for temporary places of worship would prevent parishes from being rashly cut up into permanent districts, which was too often the lavish and clumsy method of settling such disputes. He hoped that the Motion for the Previous Question would not be pressed. He put it to the majority of the Members of the House who were members of the Church of England whether they did or did not, when in town, attend their parish church as a matter of principle, because it was their parish church; and if, as he believed, the an- swer would be "no," then this fact illustrated the raison d'étre for this Bill in other places than London. It provided that, in cases where there were differences of opinion about the parson or the services of the church, the dissentients might have a temporary chapel so long as they could pay for it, or so long as it was necessary. When it ceased to be so, they could return to the mother church, which would have sustained no permanent injury. It would be well if the aggrieved parishioners had ample opportunity of stating to the Bishop what their grievances were—whether the character of the services, or their insufficiency, or the lack of clerical strength—and that a machinery should be provided for devising, if possible, a temporary remedy short of the introduction of a fresh clergyman and the making of a new district. In particular, he would be glad if the Bill had contained a provision giving to the parson himself a period of grace wherein to find the desired services, and at his own parish church. The Bill to which this was a successor, as introduced by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Salt), did make such provision, and he looked upon the omission of it in the present measure as a serious defect. He had himself been a Member of the Member for Stafford's Committee, and the prevalent opinion among them, after a very wide and searching inquiry, was that the principle advocated was a sound one, though it would require liberal development, and therefore he should vote against the Previous Question.


as a Member of the Select Committee from whom the Bill had sprung, desired to say a few words in correction of the misapprehension which existed as to its objects. The object of the parochial system was to provide for the spiritual wants of the parishioners, and it was the purpose of the Bill to further that object. One would think on hearing the opponents of the Bill that the parishes had been made for the clergy, and not the clergy for the parishes. The parochial system was a matter of theory, and were they going to sacrifice the interests of the country to a theory? Abundant evidence was given before the Select Committee that there were many cases of inadequate provision and neglect which the Bishops were powerless to meet, and in one instance it was stated a clergyman refused to attend a sick person, and yet the Bishop had no power to compel him to do so. The Bill provided a simple, cheap, temporary remedy that would not in the least interfere with any rights which an incumbent was morally justified in asserting. If he could show that increased facilities were not required, the Bishop could not interfere. On the advent of a new incumbent, the additional clergyman would retire, unless the new incumbent desired him to remain. Ritualism had nothing whatever to do with the history of the Bill, which was originally introduced by the hon. Member for Stafford (Mr. Salt), now Secretary to the Local Government Board. It would be possible to insert in the Bill any necessary safeguards; and, although it might be impossible to pass the Bill this year, it would be well to read it a second time by way of facilitating future legislation.


who had hitherto opposed Bills of this character, would vote for the second reading of this Bill, because it embodied safeguards against abuse. It ought to be watched jealously in Committee to see that the parochial system was not weakened. Though it could not be carried now, it would be well to affirm its principle. As to the practices alluded to he did not believe the Bill would give them any facilities, and believing they were generally repudiated by the common sense of the people, he should support the Bill.


could not support the Bill. The expense of enrolling legal districts might be great, but the proper remedy was to amend the law in that respect, and not to map out conventional districts. The introduction of a clergyman against the will of the incumbent, who had to pay him, must occasion strife and divisions, for collisions would be inevitable in the management of schools, and of charities, and in visiting, and these collisions would probably result in the two preaching against each other.


supported the Bill in the interest of the Church of England. In his own district in Yorkshire they had very extensive church parishes so large and. so inadequately supplied with the necessary means of church accommodation that, as a consequence, Dissenting chapels were springing up rapidly in all directions. Although the clergymen of those parishes had endeavoured, under great difficulties, to perform their duty, it could not be expected they could induce the parishioners to walk a distance of eight or nine miles in order to reach a chapel-of-ease. All this would be knocked in the head if churches and clergymen were provided.


as a Member of the Select Committee, would support the Bill. He did not look to it so much for any great advantages in the increase of accommodation, for he thought the existing Acts of Parliament went far to meet any difficulty which existed in that direction; but he did look to it to provide remedies in those cases where there was a clergyman who could not be dislodged or disturbed, who did not bring himself under the law, who did not break the Commandments so as to enable the Ecclesiastical Law to meet him, and who was, nevertheless, a man for whom the parishioners could not feel any respect. It being difficult to dislodge the clergyman, there ought to be some remedy for the parishioners who wished to go to church to get good. There were few Members of the House who could not put their hands on a parish where such a grievance existed. Although he would not pledge himself to particular details of the Bill, he held that this was a grievance that required a remedy. There were cases in which it had existed many years, in which the clergyman had, so to speak, sat upon the people for 20, 30, or 40 years, and the people had no redress. The result was that Dissent had flourished, and meeting-houses multiplied. He wanted to be relieved of that difficulty; and as he believed the Bill would provide a remedy, he would support the principle without committing himself to the details.


joined in supporting the Bill, remarking that something of its character was the only way in which they could meet the constant necessities of the case. Anyone who was old enough—as he was—to remember the million of money which was granted after the war must see that in these matters the remedy had always come behind, and had not succeeded in reaching the mischief it was intended to guard against—namely, that owing to the great increase in the population the church accommodation was found not to be sufficient. The Bill now under consideration was intended to remedy the defect, and it was upon those grounds that he considered it his duty to support the second reading.

Previous Question put, "That that Question be now put."

The House divided:—Ayes 94; Noes 78: Majority 16.—(Div. List, No. 218.)

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Wednesday 1st August.