HC Deb 16 February 1882 vol 266 cc878-84

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, he should trespass but a very few moments on the time of the House in describing this measure, which was introduced to Parliament some years ago. When he introduced the Bill in 1874 he was told by the Home (Secretary of that day (Sir R. Assheton Cross) that it would be better not to deal with the question in a fragmentary way. The right hon. Gentleman had told them to wait for a more comprehensive measure, which he (Mr. Monk) understood the Government intended to introduce. He waited, and waited in vain, for the right hon. Gentleman, during the six years he was in Office, did not introduce any measure. Last year the present Bill was introduced again, and for more than seven months it was blocked by the hon. and gallant Member for South Essex (Colonel Makins). That hon. and gallant Member, however, had not blocked it now, and he wished to express his acknowledgments to the hon. and gallant Gentleman for having refrained from blocking it. He would now explain the objects of the Bill and leave it to be dealt with by the House. The measure merely provided for the admission of Churchwardens to office at an early period. The office of Churchwarden was a very ancient one. The Churchwarden was guardian of the parish church, and was also guardian of the parish property and legal representative of the parochial body. The Churchwarden had temporal duties imposed on him—he was, by Common Law, a temporal as well as an ecclesiastical officer. Parochial Churchwardens were overseers of the poor, by virtue of their office. By various Statutes, important duties were thrown upon them, and they were required by law to make a declaration before their admission to office. This was requisite to give them a legal status. Their admission usually took place at the Archdeacon's Visitation; but, every third year, the Archdeacon was inhibited from visiting, and the admission was postponed till the Bishop held his Visitation in October or November, six months after the election of Churchwardens; consequently, during that period the Churchwardens were not in office, although they had been elected at the previous Easter. He thought that, as they undertook onerous duties, for which there was no payment, they, at all events, should have their title made good by admission as soon as possible after election; and he did not know what objection his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Makins) could raise to the Bill. Many of the Members of the Episcopal Bench—the Archbishop of York and many right rev. Prelates—had expressed their desire that this Bill should become law; and the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol had expressed a hope in the Upper House of Convocation that the Bill would not be opposed, as it was simply a Bill to facilitate the admission of Churchwardens and could not do any harm, while it might do much good. The Bishop of Peterborough had written to him (Mr. Monk) last year describing the delay between the election of Churchwardens and their appointment at a subsequent Visitation as objectionable. In his Bill of 1874 a fee was made payable to the Registrar on registering the admission; but it was totally unnecessary to have any registration, for the Incumbent or the Rural Dean could attest the signature of the Churchwarden's declaration, and that declaration would be produced at the subsequent Visitation. With regard to the opposition of his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Makins) he would remind him that when they were both Members of a Select Committee appointed to consider the Ecclesiastical Offices Bill in 1877, he (Mr. Monk) proposed his Bill word for word as he had brought it in last year, and one of his warmest supporters on that occasion was the hon. and gallant Member, while the only hon. Member who opposed the Bill was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Beresford Hope), who divided the Committee, but was defeated by 10 to 1. But when the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Cambridge found himself in a minority of one he proposed that the Bill should only apply to cases where there was no Visitation within three months of the election. He (Mr. Monk) should not have much objected to that; but a division was taken, and the numbers were the same—10 to 1 against the proposal. It was, perhaps, a small matter; but it was most desirable that gentlemen who undertook offices of this nature, in which temporal as well as their ecclesiastical duties were performed, should have every facility given them by the Legislature. He, therefore, begged to move the second reading of the Bill.

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


said, he must plead guilty to the crime—if crime it was—of having opposed his hon. Friend last year, despite the fact that on a previous occasion he supported his hon. Friend in the Committee. He wished now to assure his hon. Friend that his object in opposing the Bill was not to throw any difficulties in the way of Churchwardens being admitted to their office. His chief reason for opposing the Bill was that he thought it unnecessary, because, as he thought his hon. Friend would admit, there were in most places, if not in all places, Surrogates who could admit Churchwardens to their offices if no Visitation took place. That was one of his objections; the extreme course of passing a Bill was not necessary when a Churchwarden who desired to be admitted could, without any fee and by going a short distance, be admitted by the Surrogate. Another objection was that the Churchwarden was an officer of the Ordinary, and, therefore, he took it, ought to be admitted by the Ordinary, and not by the clergy, of whom he was an overseer, or, at all events, an observer of what was done by them. In his view, it would be rather anomalous for an officer who had to look after the clergy to be appointed or admitted by the clergy. The Easter Visitation of the Archdeacon nearly always took place, he believed, as soon after Easter as possible, and, therefore, the delay was not of great importance. Prideaux, the great authority upon the duties of Churchwardens, laid it down that their lay duties were not interfered with by the fact of their not having obtained admission. He was bound to accept the authority of one who had been so often quoted—the Bishop of Gloucester and Bristol—but he believed the effect of the Bill would be to diminish the attendance of Churchwardens at Visitations, and he would leave it to the House to consider whether that was desirable. Visitations had a social aspect; they brought the Churchwardens of a diocese in communication with the Ordinary, the Bishop, or the Archdeacon; and for that reason he thought it desirable to continue thorn. He would like to ask whether his hon. Friend thought that farmers and men of business of the sort out of whom Churchwardens were usually chosen were likely, after being admitted under this Bill, to take the trouble to go to Visitation when they had no necessity for doing so, and no object beyond going for a jaunt. The objections of those with whom he had communicated rested upon the fact that the Bill would deter Churchwardens from attending Visitations; but there was another point. The Incumbent, by admitting a Churchwarden, would add to that absolutism of the clergy which had been so much complained of. If a clergyman was to select one of his Churchwardens, and admit both, it would seem clear that there would then be no check upon him, and those who were intended to look after him would be mere appendages. That, he thought, would be objectionable; but there was still another objection. In the hon. Member's Bill the declaration was very simple—it was merely a declaration by the Churchwarden to do his duty; but in the ordinary form of declaration—the declaration in use in most Archdeaconries—in addition to declaring that he would faithfully do his duty as a Churchwarden, the Churchwarden declared that he would present such persons and things as were by law presentable. The Bill, as a whole, was, he thought, an uncalled for innovation; there had been no Petitions in favour of it; but, on the other hand, he had received several letters from persons holding high office in the Church strongly objecting to it. He should, therefore, think it right to take the sense of the House upon the Bill.


said, he was sorry that he could not agree in the remarks of his hon. and gallant Friend (Colonel Makins), for this appeared to him to be a proposal for useful reform in a matter which, though small, was of some practical importance. What was the effect of the present system? If a Church warden did not attend the Archdeacon's Visitation, because it was not convenient for him to do so, he was made to pay considerable fees for the privilege of admission. If he did not pay these fees, he was not admitted, and the result was that very many Churchwardens did not get admission at all, and so were not legally occupying their offices. There might be some Amendments which, on consideration, might be necessary; but, so far as this stage of the Bill was concerned, he hoped the hon. and gallant Member would not persist in his opposition.


observed, that there was great ignorance upon this question. The right hon. Gentleman (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) said fees were payable for the admission of a Churchwarden to office. The right hon. Gentleman was quite wrong, for a Churchwarden was made a Churchwarden before any fees were demanded, and if he refused to pay any fees he was a Churchwarden all the same. There was no necessity for him to pay a single farthing; the fee was a registration fee, and only payable if there were funds, such as church rate or sustentation fund, out of which it could be paid. The objection to the Bill was well put by the hon. and gallant Member (Colonel Makins). The effect of the Bill would be to destroy a Court of First Instance—it would destroy the gathering together of Churchwardens at the Archdeacon's Visitation. This meeting was of great advantage to the Church, for it gave the Churchwardens an opportunity of making presentments with reference to the Church and to the incumbent before the superior officer of the clergyman of the parish. Who had asked for the Bill? Not the Churchwardens; not the Archdeacons, who had condemned it—the Convocation of the Southern Provinces, who knew more about it than the hon. Members, had also condemned the Bill in its present form. It, therefore, came before the House with a condemnation, and he hoped the House would refuse the second reading.


confessed that this had been a most interesting and instructive discussion. The only reason in favour of the Bill that he had heard was that it was condemned by Convocation; and he appealed to the House whether, in every other respect, it was not a most favourable argument for Home Rule in the Church. For his part, he thought it would be wiser for the Church, as a spiritual institution, to bear the inconveniences of their present position until such time when they could make up their minds to take up the management of their own affairs. He was satisfied that attempts to smuggle through legislation at these untimely hours could not be of advantage to the Church, but were rather humiliating and derogatory to the House. He ventured to hope that his hon. Friend, if he should find out that this Bill was scarcely acceptable to the majority of Churchmen, would regard his defeat with indifference, and hope for better years when Churchmen might meet together, not in Convocation, as at present constituted, but in some better form, when Church matters would receive the consideration that all such questions required. He confessed that he felt altogether out of his element when matters of this kind were brought forward. Some years ago, when a Church matter was before the House, an innocent Dissenter asked what he was to do, when the question was one of entire indifference to him, and one about which he knew nothing. The answer he received was, that he ought to walk out of the House. ["Hear, hear!"] He was delighted to hear that cheer. It was a sentiment in which he concurred; and he thought there ought to be a Parliament for Church matters in which Nonconformists would be out of place. He believed that he was doing his duty to his constituents, and that he was acting in the interests of the Church itself, in pressing upon Churchmen the desirability of providing some means whereby they would be prevented from coming continually before the House of Commons for the settlement of matters in which they only were concerned.


said, he did not intend to follow the hon. Member who had just spoken. It was certainly the custom for Churchwardens to pay fees before they were initiated. He had been a Churchwarden for many years and had always had to do so, and the more he looked into this Bill the more he was satisfied that it was a measure that ought to be passed. The Bill itself was only of a permissive character, and simply enabled the Churchwarden, if he wished to be sworn before the Incumbent, or before the Rural Dean, to do so. He trusted that his hon. and gallant Friend would not divide the House.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 86; Noes 20: Majority 66.—(Div. List, No. 10.)

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

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