§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. J. E. ELLIS (Nottingham, Rushcliffe)
, in rising to move that the Bill be now read a second time, said, it was identical with the measure which was introduced last year by the present Under Secretary of State for the Home Department. Its object was to facilitate the acquisition of sites for places of religious worship. It contained every precaution necessary to prevent unreasonable or injurious proceedings. The principle underlying the measure was as follows:—There was one denomination in this country—namely, the Church of England—which possessed the power of compulsorily obtaining sites for places of worship, and the Bill proposed that the same power should be conferred upon other denominations. It was thought an injustice that those who did not conform to one particular mode of worship should not have the same facilities as the Church of England for obtaining sites. It was in order to promote perfect religious equality that the present Bill had been introduced. The hon. Member concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. J. E. Ellis.)
§ MR. BERESFORD HOPE (Cambridge University)
said, it was his fate last year to oppose the Bill, and 12 months' further study of the subject did not incline him to regard the measure with greater favour. While wishing to give every credit to hon. Members who supported it, he must say that the Bill belonged to a class of legislation of which he had always had a great dread and dislike. It was legislation by invidiousness. It set forth with much pomp and circumstance what seemed to be a tremendous grievance, which, when looked at in its reality, shrank to very minute proportions. He did not believe the Bill would confer upon persons desirous to obtain sites for places of 653 religious worship any real privileges which they might not be reasonably presumed to possess at present. If freedom of contract in regard to the acquisition of land were to be interfered with, he did not see why the principle should be limited to obtaining sites for places of religious worship, and not extended to the acquisition of sites for baths, washhouses, markets, and other objects tending to the moral, physical, and sanitary improvement of the population. ["Hear, hear!"] Of course, he was aware that, to a considerable extent, such facilities already existed; but that cheer showed the extent to which philanthropic Liberalism was inclined to go. The privilege possessed by the Church of England for compulsorily obtaining sites he should be willing to abandon, for he did not believe the Church had made much use of it. In conclusion, he moved, as an Amendment, that the Bill should be read a second time that day six months.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Beresford Hope.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ MR. ADDISON (Ashton-under-Lyne)
said that, in his opinion, the Mover of the Bill had made out no case, as he had failed to adduce a single case in which an owner was averse to selling his land for the purpose of the erection of a place of worship. Then, the Bill contained no definition of "religious denomination." Was it intended, for example, to include Positivists and the Salvation Army? The Church of England, so far from using the power she possessed, had been content with the sites given to her voluntarily. He was rather surprised that this Bill should emanate from hon. Members opposite, who boasted so much of their voluntary efforts, because the measure was a step in the direction of abolishing the voluntary principle and obtaining a quasi-establishment for Nonconformist Bodies. He did not object to the Bill passing, but he should like to see what Amendments would be proposed in Committee, and what the religious denominations 654 were which were intended to be affected by it.
§ MR. THOMAS (Glamorgan, E.)
said, that he had known cases where Nonconformists had had to walk a long way to a place of worship. He hoped the Bill would pass.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER (Sir WILLIAM HARCOURT) (Derby)
said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Addison) had admitted that the powers which the Bill would give to Nonconformists had long been enjoyed by the Church of England. He had ventured to make that statement not very long ago, and ever since he had been denounced by Bishops and Diocesan Chancellors. One Diocesan Chancellor had written to The Times denying the existence of any such Act of Parliament. He ought to have known better; but Diocesan Chancellors were often not learned in the law, especially the Ecclesiastical Law. The Chancellor was followed by a Bishop, who went to a Church Congress and stated that the Home Secretary had asserted that which was contrary to the fact, and various clergymen had held him up to execration for his ignorance of the law. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that what he was pleased to term an obscure statute—which was the principal Church Building Act—was not frequently put in force. Perhaps not, but there was an obvious reason. The chief landowner in a district was generally a Churchman, and there was, therefore, no difficulty in finding sites. But the case was different when the land was in the hands of a Churchman and the great majority of the people were Nonconformists. The hon. and learned Gentleman was perfectly right in reserving his decision till he saw what arrangements would be made. It was plain that the powers conferred by the Bill should not be put in force when there was no justification for it. But the general principle of the Bill was perfectly sound. It was only fair that if the Church of England was allowed to obtain sites where there was a difficulty in obtaining them, other Religious Bodies should be allowed to have the same privilege, and he hoped the House would support the second reading of the Bill.
§ MR. HANDEL COSSHAM (Bristol, E.)
said, that it was perfectly reasonable that details of the Bill should be asked 655 for, though, for the purpose of avoiding irritation, details had been avoided. But he knew parishes where land had been refused for chapels, and Lord Salisbury himself had refused to allow a chapel to be built on his property.
§ COLONEL BLUNDELL (Lancashire, S.W., Ince)
said, there were innumerable denominations in the country, and it could not be intended to recognize them all.
§ BARON DIMSDALE (Herts, Hitchin)
said, he had the express authority of Lord Salisbury for denying that he had ever refused a site for a chapel. On the contrary, the noble Lord had expressed his readiness to allow a site to be taken for the purpose.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Monday next.