HC Deb 20 May 1885 vol 298 cc979-85

Order for Second Reading read.


in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that its object was to facilitate the acquisition by Nonconformist bodies of land whereon to build places of worship. He would not go through the Bill; but one of the clauses provided that a memorial must be presented by a certain number of residents for a site, and that a deposit of £100 must accompany the memorial in order to show that the application was made boná fide. The object of Clause 7 was to prevent land from being selected for the purpose of causing a nuisance or an inconvenience to any residents in the neighbourhood. It was proposed that these powers should be exercised in the County Courts. The Bill would remove a very general hardship, which had existed for a great number of years. Experience showed that there were a number of landowners who exercised great despotism towards the Nonconformist bodies in rural districts. Many looked upon the erection of a chapel as a great nuisance, and mapped out the land as though they were granting pieces of land for the erection of a small-pox hospital. By the action of such landowners Nonconformists had been driven to worship in barns.




presumed that the right hon. Gentleman who said this was nonsense did not often attend Nonconformist places of worship in rural districts.


I do.


was very glad to hear this, because he should begin to have a higher opinion of the right hon. Gentleman than he had entertained hitherto, and he looked forward with confidence to improvements in him in many directions. He repeated that Dissenters had been driven to worship in barns, in cottages, and even on the roadside. He knew of an instance where a congregation of 70 adults, with 90 children, attending the Sunday school were exposed to the greatest hardship, because the landlord denied them a site for a place of worship. With the new state of things that was coming it was not likely that such a denial could be long persisted in. The difficulties in the way of such congregation were great enough without aggravating them by the obstinacy of landlords. In some cases, when they had granted sites, they had fixed unreasonable prices or imposed vexatious conditions. A Methodist clergyman had instanced to him a case where, after long negotiation, the landowner granted the sale of a piece of land for the erection of a chapel, and the people, being inexperienced and enthusiastic at the grant, began the work without thorough examination of the site. But they had not gone far up with the walls before they discovered that the arm of a large tree grew in a direction exactly across the site of the chapel, and would prevent them carrying the walls to their full height. The landlord said it must not be cut off. Like good citizens and good Methodists, they held prayer meetings, and after one or two of those meetings, fortunately, there arose a great storm of wind, and the rev. gentleman did not make it plain as to whether the branch of the tree came oil by the action of the wind or a hand-saw; but, at any rate, next morning the arm of the tree was removed, and thus Providence came in and did for them that which had been denied to them by the landowner. The exercise of despotism of this nature had been for years in progress; and he sincerely hoped that the House, which had shown itself so liberally inclined in many directions this Session, would agree to the second reading. If it was thought desirable for the improvement of the Bill to refer it to a Select Committee he should assent-to that proposal. The measure was a moderate one, and he sincerely trusted the House would read it a second time.

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


said, he rose to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months. His objection to the Bill was that it was, however unintentionally, brought in under false pretences, inasmuch as it misquoted Acts of Parliament to which it referred. It recited the Places of Worship Sites Act of 1873 and 1882; but they only enabled persons with limited interests in land to grant sites, and did not say a word about the acquisition of sites; and as the object of this Bill was the acquisition of sites, the recited Acts had nothing to do with it. The Bill would enable 20 inhabitants, belonging to the some religious body, to make application for a site. It did not even say the body was to be registered; and if it did, there were in 1880 161 registered bodies, and in 1884 there were 194, and the cry was "still they come." Any of these would be entitled to send a requisition to a landowner, with a plan showing a desirable piece of land for a place of worship. There was one of these bodies which had become very prominent. He referred to the Salvation Army. He did not wish to say one word against the method pursued by any religious society, provided it did not interfere with the proper enjoyment of property. No doubt the eccentricities of the Salvation Army were to be regretted; but if this Bill passed, facilities would be given to the Salvation Army and similar bodies to plant themselves wherever it suited their purpose. He did not approve of liberality with other people's land and other people's money. All religious bodies had at present a full and ample right to acquire land for their own purposes in an ordinary way; but this Bill would give the right to acquire them compulsorily, and that without any of the safeguards which usually surrounded the compulsory acquisition of property for objects of public utility. If a measure of this character was to be passed at all, it would, at least, be necessary to define the religious bodies which were to come within the benefit of its scope, and it would also be necessary to surround the compulsory powers of purchase with certain safeguards. The hon. Member said this Bill was intended to do away with a great hardship; but he had carefully abstained from going into details, and the only case of hardship to which he alluded was that of the tree which overhung the wall of the chapel about to be erected. But the hon. Member's references to that case were very cloudy, for he left the House in a state of uncertainty as to whether the disappearance of the obnoxious bough was due to the efficacy of prayer or to a hand saw. The hon. Member appeared to think that it was a great grievance that certain persons should have to meet for worship in barns and in cottages. There was no great hardship in having to worship in a barn. The early Christians worshipped in much worse places; and as to worshipping in cottages, this was only family worship slightly extended. Ho had no desire to limit the free toleration of religious worship of every kind; but the Bill was in principle most dangerous to the rights of property, and he therefore begged to move that it be read a second time that day six months.


in seconding the Amendment, said, he thought this was one of the most extraordinary Bills ever presented to Parliament. It violated the recognized rights of property, on which the whole fabric of society rested. The Bill set forth that 20 members signing the requisition, belonging, it might be, to that one, or, it might be, to a neighbouring parish, might sign the requisition which was to have so great an effect. What was meant by that? Did "neighbouring parish" mean five miles off? He complained of this laxity of language, which he was sure would lead to any amount of annoyance to landlords. Unless the promoters of the Bill were prepared to bring in a measure conferring similar compulsory powers upon all other bodies in addition to religious communities, the Bill must fall to the ground. It was incongruous to see the House of Commons asked, in the interest of public worship, to stir up all the strife of compulsory acquisition. While respecting and valuing to the utmost, and tolerating and smoothing the way for the privileges of religious worship, he did not think that there was such a peculiar character attaching to it as to make it desirable to break down on its behalf the well-recognized principles of private property. This Bill was simply an attempt, in the sacred name of religious liberty, to root up the established foundations of property.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Colonel Makins.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


said, he understood the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Beresford Hope) to base his objection to the Bill on the ground that the claims of public worship did not justify an interference with property. Would he explain how it was that under the Church Building Act there was such interference with property for the benefit of the Church of England? In the case of the Church of England these compulsory powers did exist; and the right hon. Gentleman was therefore driven to argue that such powers should exist for the benefit of the Church of England, but for the benefit of no other denomination. Was it a wise or Conservative proposition that the Church of England should enjoy and maintain a monopoly of this kind, and that it should be in the power of a landowner who might own a whole parish, as many landowners did—though he believed, there would be few of them who would do such a thing—to say to the community that it should only have one place of worship to go to, and that the place to which he belonged? That was a proposition which could not be for a moment sustained. He had the authority of his right hon. Friend (Mr. Osborne Morgan) for saying that in Wales, where the whole land practically belonged to owners who were members of a religion which was not that of the people, and also in Cornwall, cases of great hardship occurred. The hon. and gallant Member who moved the rejection of this Bill had said—"The early Christians worshipped in catacombs; why should not the English Dissenters do the same?"


said, he did not use such an argument. He was answering an argument of the hon. Member for Stoke (Mr. Broadhurst), that it was a great hardship for people to have to conduct worship in barns and cottages.


said, the hon. and gallant Member nevertheless said the early Christians worshipped in the catacombs; but the early Christians had not the advantage of a House of Commons, or else they would not have worshipped in catacombs. Then the hon. and gallant Member argued that it was no hardship having to worship in a cottage, as this was merely family worship. But what the Dissenters asked for was public worship, and why should they not have it as well as anybody else? He did not say that the provisions of the Bill were all that they ought to be; but their consideration was a question for Committee. The question was—taking it on the broad principle of his right hon. Friend opposite—was it right that persons should be excluded simply by the accident of the possession of the land of a whole parish vesting in a proprietor of a different religious faith? He thought it was not. There were many matters of detail which would require amendment; the landowner, for instance, might require greater consideration; but looking at the principle of the Bill he thought it was a right principle, and he should certainly vote for the second reading.


said, there were only a few minutes left before the debate must be suspended; and as he could not within that time state his objections to the Bill, he begged to move the adjournment of the debate.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Debate be now adjourned,"—(Mr. Newdegate,)—put, and negatived.

Original Question again proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

Debate arising;

And it being a quarter of an hour before Six of the clock, the Debate stood adjourned till To-morrow.

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