§ Order for Second Reading read.
(1.50.) MR. S.T.EVANS (Glamorgan, Mid)
In moving the Second Reading of this Bill, it will not be necessary to detain the House at any great length in explaining it. All the members of a very strong Committee in 1889 joined in recommending the principle of the Bill, which does not propose to transfer any part of the property of one private owner to another private owner, but only to enable the trustees of religious bodies, on paying fair compensation, to become 1091 the owners of their places of worship. The Bill is not limited to any sect; it applies to all denominations, including the Church of England. I believe the Church of England take care not to erect any churches or chapels on ground that is not freehold, but it is impossible for Nonconformists in many places to acquire freeholds at all. It is beyond doubt that the places of worship of Nonconformists have in many parts of the country been erected on very short leases. On Lord Penrhyn's estate 20 chapels have been built at a cost of £45,000 upon a 30 years' lease. Is it reasonable that on the expiry of such a lease the landlord should be able either to take away the buildings entirely or to raise the rent and impose any conditions he wishes upon the worshippers? The details of the Bill are as simple as the principle, and if the House should accept the principle I hope we shall not have any minute discussion of the details on this occasion, because after the Second Reading the Bill may be referred to a Select Committee or to the Standing Committee on Law. The first thing to be done if the Bill become law is to give notice to the immediate owner that the trustees are desirous of purchasing the fee simple, and require him to say what other persons are beneficially interested. Within 21 days after the service of such notice the lessor or owner has to furnish the particulars required and to state the amount of the purchase money he claims. If there should be any difficulty in agreeing as to that sum, it is proposed that the County Court of the district, which has already the machinery for the purpose, shall say what the amount of compensation should be. Then it will be in the power of the trustees to pay the money into Court, and the trustees will be entitled to receive from the Judge a certificate which would convey the fee simple to them. It has been made abundantly manifest to the Town Holdings Committee that there is a widespread desire for some such measure as this. The Committee affirm that it is most desirable that all religious bodies should be able to obtain a secure tenure of their places of worship and schools. The unanimous recommendation of the Committee was in that sense. I have not heard what course the Government propose to adopt with reference to this Bill, but I hope that after the unanimous 1092 recommendation of a Committee, the majority of whose Members belonged to the Tory Party, they will on this question allow their supporters a free hand. The Bill does not propose to inflict injury on any one. Let us inquire for a moment into the position of the landlord. A chapel or school is built upon his land: he gets the ground rent. What good would it be to him to recover possession of the land? He would have to demolish the building which had cost £2,000, £3,000, or even £5,000, because it could not be used for other purposes. I do not think that any religious body would take over a building which another sect had been obliged by the action of the landlord to surrender. Therefore, I do not think the landlord would desire to re-take possession of his land. I hold that the law ought not to enable him to do so. After all, it is to the advantage of the landlord to have a place for religious worship built upon his property. It does not deteriorate from the respectability of the locality, it tends instead to promote good conduct on the part of the people. I say, therefore, that as the Bill inflicts iniury on no one, and will remove a great practical disability under which religious bodies are now suffering, I hope the House will read the Bill a second time. It will, perhaps, be said that there have been very few cases of landlords who have taken advantage of their right to resume possession of the land. This I do not admit, but, even if it were true, there would be a case for this Bill, because religious bodies naturally desire to have an absolutely secure tenure, and to become absolute possessors of places which to them are sacred and full of touching recollections. I trust that the Government, even if they oppose the Bill themselves, will not influence their supporters against it.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
§ (2.5.) MR. H. BYRON REED (Bradford, E.)
The hon. Gentleman who moved the Second Reading of this Bill urged that it would do away with a great injustice. In that I differ from him. I think I shall be able to show that the Bill is a bad Bill; bad in theory, bad in principle, bad in its inevitable effect, and bad in the machinery by which it proposes to work. In the first 1093 instance I should like to point out that the principle of the Bill, so far as it has any principle at all, is really an application to this House for State establishment and endowment of Nonconformist Bodies, and hon. Gentlemen will find some little difficulty in reconciling that position with the attitude which Nonconformists usually adopt. Whatever their intentions may be, this is simply an application to this House for the adoption of a measure which, if it becomes law, will give by force of Statute Law peculiar privileges and prerogatives to Nonconformist Bodies. If the matter ended here I, perhaps, as a strong advocate of the union of Church and State, would find no objection to the measure; indeed, I should be able to show that the Nonconformists are already in a legal sense established. But the Bill does a great deal more than affirm that principle. It brings very considerable hardship and disability to bear upon persons who are directly concerned in its provisions. I may just point out in passing that it is a somewhat singular circumstance that Nonconformists should apply for statutory powers for the acquisition of sites for edifices just at the time when the National Church of the Kingdom is asking this House to take from it the peculiar privileges which it at present possesses in that respect. There is a Bill now before the House which proposes to repeal those clauses of the Church Building Acts which give compulsory power to the Church of England to acquire sites for church building purposes. The Bill has been introduced in past Sessions, but it has never passed a Second Reading in consequence of the opposition of hon. Members opposite. The reason why from this side of the House the Bill is brought forward is because it has been proved and shown in Parliamentary Returns that in only one case, since the Church was given the power, has it found necessary to exercise it. Thus, while Churchmen are asking the State to take this special power away because they do not want it, hon. Gentleman opposite, who are in close alliance with the Liberation Society, who profess a desire to see the absolute independence of religion from State patronage, and who teach that the State has no concern with religion, are demanding special privileges for their own denominations. I should like next to point out that the 1094 Bill of the hon. Member for Glamorganshire contains no definition of the words "religious body," words that occur in it several times. Nor does it propose any limitation of the measure to religious purposes. I wish that hon. Members opposite would favour the House with a. definition of the words "religious body." Other bodies besides what I may term the orthodox Nonconformist religious assemblies might fairly claim to be religious bodies, and to come under the provisions of the Bill.
§ MR. S. T. EVANS
The phrase "religious body" has been used over and over again in Acts of Parliament; it is perfectly understood, and a definition is therefore unnecessary.
§ MR. H. BYRON REED
Hon. Gentlemen opposite may understand it, and the meaning may be generally understood in regard to ordinary matters. But this Bill marks what is a new departure. When the House is asked to pass a-measure endowing Nonconformity at the expense of landowners, it has a right to know precisely what kind of Nonconformity the framers of the Bill contemplated. My next objection to the measure is that it contains no limitation, of the uses to which the buildings to be acquired can be put. It will be possible for a religious denomination, after it has-acquired possession of the site of a chapel, to sell it for the erection of secular buildings, or to sell the chapel itself. I could point to a number of cases, one of them not very far from the precincts of this House, in which Nonconformist places of worship have been thus sold. And why? Because the neighbourhoods in which they have been situated have become too poor to maintain them under the voluntary system, and they have been obliged to move to fresh fields and pastures new. Again, there is no provision in the Bill for the reversion of the land to the original owner in cases of that kind. I hold that the precedent set in the Elementary Education Act of 1870 in this respect ought to have been followed. That Act, whilst grafting compulsory powers for the acquisition of sites for schools, provided for the reversion of the property to the original owner if a school building should cease to be used for the purpose for which it was erected. It is true that the Report of the Town Holdings Committee was in the direction stated 1095 by the hon. Member, but I think he is mistaken in saying that it was a unanimous Report. On that particular point I think there was a minority of two-fifths.
§ MR. H. BYRON REED
Of course I accept the correction. In the next place, I should like to point out that the Bill provides not merely for taking property held under lease, but property held under annual tenancies. What might happen under Clause 2 is this. The Salvation Army might hold its peculiar services in a hall held under an annual tenancy. This hall might be used fat considerable profit for concerts, entertainments, and other week-day meetings, but under this Bill the Salvation Army would have a right to acquire it.
§ MR. H. BYRON REED
I am aware that I am taking an extreme case, but when this House is asked to strike a serious blow at the foundations on which the ownership of land and buildings is based, I think we are entitled to take extreme cases. I say the Salvation Army would be entitled in such a case, if this Bill became law, to serve a notice on a body or individual from whom they hired the hall, with a view to its compulsory purchase. Anything more subversive of the first principles of bargain between man and man I cannot conceive. In the next place, I hold that the tribunal which the hon. Gentleman by his Bill will bring into requisition for its working is a totally unfit tribunal. County Courts were never intended to discharge the duties which this Bill proposes to place upon them. I maintain that the tendency of legislation of past years has been wrong in putting extra work on these Courts. Their original purpose was to give a cheap, ready, and speedy tribunal for the settlement locally of unimportant cases; the Judge was to be a poor man's Judge, and it was never intended he should become a minor Judge of the High Court, or that cases should be put upon him which involved vast interests, such as might arise under this Bill. Finally, I should like to point out a possible effect of this Bill, which the hon. Member probably has not contemplated. I believe if this Bill becomes law, or if there is a prospect of its 1096 speedily becoming law, the owners of buildings who have the power to eject Nonconformist Bodies, may be trusted to put that power into operation; and in the future owners of buildings would be more than ever chary of entering into bargains for tenancies with Nonconformist Bodies; and, therefore, so far from promoting the object which the hon. Member has in view, this Bill would, in the long run, cause greater difficulties than have ever been experienced in obtaining sites for Nonconformist places of worship. On all these grounds—the absolute absence of definition of religious bodies, the confiscatory nature of the proposals, the unfair burdens cast on the County Courts, and the hopeless intricacy in which the provisions of the Bill are involved, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time this 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. Byron Reed.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."—(2.20.)
§ (2.40.) COLONEL NOLAN
I shall not notice, at any great length, the remarks of the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Byron Reed) because he seems to be rather jealous lest Nonconformists or Catholics or any other body should get the same privileges as are now enjoyed by the Church of England. [An hon. MEMBER: No!] It was given in evidence before the Select Committee, of which I was a Member, that the power of enfranchisement was enjoyed by the Church of England. The hon. Member gave as an instance of what might occur under this Bill, the case of a music hall, the freehold of which might, he said, be compulsorily purchased because an occasional Salvation Army service was held there. I think that is a very bad case. Of course, if the Salvation Army conducts a religious service regularly in a building it ought to come under this Bill; but I think the promoters of the Bill would consent to have it made perfectly clear that any place which was only used occasionally for religious services would not be included in the provisions of the measure. In my opinion, 1097 a Bill of this kind is very much wanted. As far as the English case is concerned, I am only entitled to speak of it inasmuch as I was for a long time a Member of the Town Holdings Committee—a Committee which will, I think, have had the honour of examining more witnesses, costing more money to the country, and producing a larger number of Blue Books than any other body of the kind that has sat in this House. We have made several Reports. One of them was to the effect that the enfranchisement of the church and chapel buildings was very much needed, and specific mention was made of Wales, of Devonport, and of Sheffield. Sheffield is not very far from Bradford, and I think the hon. Member for Bradford ought not to have tried to prevent the Nonconformists of Sheffield obtaining this privilege. I have, however, risen chiefly because we have such a very strong case in Ireland on this subject. I am aware that at present Ireland is omitted from the Bill. The omission is a most unfortunate mistake, because I think that Irish Members have themselves had the honour of initiating Bills on this subject. I think the only faults to be found with the present measure are that no Irish Member's name is on the back of it, and that it does not extend to Ireland. However, even if the Bill cannot be made to apply to Ireland, it is important, from our point of view, that it should be passed, as we shall be able to quote it as a precedent. To show how important it is that the Bill should be extended to Ireland, I may say that evidence was given before the Town Holdings Committee to the effect that a Cathedral, which was said to have cost £30,000, but which I always understood had cost £60,000 or £70,000, was built on a plot of ground without any title except a lease. Fortunately, the owner of the land and his family were very good landlords; but for want of a title the whole thing has got into such a state of chaos that nobody likes to pay any rent in case it should go to the wrong person. It is very easy to understand how cases of this kind arise. It is extremely expensive, and used to be still more so, to get a bit of freehold land. The collateral descendant of the very same landlord who let the land for the Cathedral sold some land for a cemetery about 8 or 10 years ago, and a witness before the Committee said that no 1098 less than £300 went in law costs over the purchase of that piece of ground. Many a plot of leasehold land has been acquired for religious purposes because the clergyman was very glad to get a piece of land at all, and did not trouble to look into the title. A great many of the chapels in Ireland are built either on leasehold land or on land without any title at all. I would ask the House what is the use of letting a Town Holdings Committee sit for five years in succession if you are not going to take any notice of its Reports? On this point the Report of the Committee was, I believe, perfectly unanimous. [An hon. MEMBER: No!] Well, I do not know any Member of the Committee who differed from the Report or divided against it. I see one hon. Member opposite who was on the Committee, and I notice that he does not contradict me. In my opinion it will injure the Established Church very much if the present state of things is allowed to continue. The hon. Member for Bradford says the Church of England has not the privilege of enfranchisement.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
It must be borne in mind that whilst the buildings of the Church of England are almost universally on freehold land, the same cannot be said of the chapels of Nonconformists and Catholics. I know that in old times it was almost impossible to get a bit of freehold land for the purpose of building a Catholic chapel. In Ireland, the Church of England has inherited several plots of land in almost every parish; but the Catholics are not able to get freehold land, and the tenure of their places of worship is, therefore, subject to the whim of a capricious landlord, although I quite admit that it is very unlikely that they would be turned out of their chapels.
§ (2.57.) MR. RENTOUL (Down, E.)
I wish to say a word in favour of this Bill, and I think the best course I can adopt is to acquaint the House with the position of a Nonconformist chapel with which I am myself acquainted. When it was built 30 years ago, in a populous district in Woolwich, the people could not get a site except in a back street, and upon the condition that they paid £13 a year for land that was worth about 1099 £1 a year, and that at the end of 90 years the chapel should he handed over to the landlord in the highest state of repair it had been in during any period of its existence. The people had to lay out £2,000 in obtaining a foundation, and they then built their church at a cost of £8,000. They have since spent a large amount of money — perhaps foolishly — in putting stained glass windows and so on into the church. At the end of 60 years the building must be handed over to the landlord. He, and his predecessors, will have received for 90 years a rent much in excess of what he could have got from anybody else, and at the end of the period he will obtain a property worth £10,000. I just mention these circumstances, because this is the only church of which I have been a member in this country, and I think the facts will have some weight with the House. I am-afraid it may be thought that Members on this side of the House generally are against this Bill. As a Nonconformist I support it, because I think it would be utterly unfair that Members on this side, who sometimes make use on platforms of the fact that we are Nonconformists, should appear to turn their backs on anything Nonconformist when it comes into this House. There has come into my hands a very extraordinary document which is supposed to contain in short form everything that can possibly be said against this Bill. The first three or four paragraphs seem to me extremely foolish and hardly worthy of any notice at all. The first paragraph refers to the immorality of religious bodies having entered into an agreement to give up possession at the end of a certain period of time, trying to get an Act of Parliament passed to get rid of their obligation, and deprecates the breaking of stipulations of a lease entered into. But would not a similar objection apply to three-fourths of the Bills brought before this House for remedial legislation? Another objection, and this was urged by the hon. Member for Bradford, is that the County Court should be made the tribunal in the case. To this I say I would not insist upon the County Court if a better tribunal could be suggested. I do not know that it is the best tribunal that could be selected for this purpose, but that is not a matter essential to the 1100 Bill at all. There is, I admit, very great force in what the hon. Member for Bradford said as to the looseness of definition in the phrase "religious body," and I am afraid the answer of the hon. Member for Glamorgan, when he says the same expression is used in other Acts, hardly gets over the difficulty. I know difficulties will arise from the want of a more precise definition. But I suppose this is a point that can be met in Committee. Then it has been urged by speakers against the Bill that the measure is promoted in a short-sighted spirit, because owners of property who have hitherto acted generously in the leases they have granted to religious bodies will hesitate in future, owing to the consequences their generosity may involve under this Bill. That, I admit, is a difficulty as it stands, but I think it can be met by giving compulsory powers to religious bodies under sanction of a Public Authority. The hon. Member for Bradford says that the supporters of the Bill are illogical inasmuch as they, being opposed to religious establishment, by this Bill recognise religious establishment. But is it not equally illogical that the hon. Member for Bradford, being in favour of religious establishment, should oppose the Bill? But I have heard one remark from an hon. Member on this side which indicates, I think, what will have more weight than any other argument, that is that this is the thin end of the wedge for a great many Radical changes— towards leasehold enfranchisement, for example. Now, many of us here are distinctly opposed to leasehold enfranchisement, but I do not think that anything that concerns a religious body can be the thin end of the wedge in regard to secular contracts. Places for religious worship are surrounded by conditions totally different to those which apply to buildings for secular purposes. I do not think if the Church of England were a secular body any man would be found to advocate the Establishment, and those of us who do not belong to the Church of England and who support it, do not do so on the ground that it is a corporation or society, but simply as a religious body. To religious bodies this Bill will be extremely beneficial, and I hope it will receive a considerable amount of support from this side of the House.
§ (3.5.) MR. AMBROSE
(Middlesex, Harrow): I am rather sorry that the 1101 religious element should have been introduced into this discussion, but still in the view I take I am not influenced by any considerations of the kind, and certainly not by any feeling of hostility towards Nonconformist or other religious bodies. I am prepared to accept, though not to the fullest extent, the statement that there are at times difficulties met with in securing sites for the erection of places of public worship for Dissenting Bodies. Let that be conceded, though I do not think the difficulties exist to the extent stated, and I have had some experience in relation to such matters. But accepting the statement, what is the remedy? Is it necessary to come to the House with a Bill like this which is to place the property of owners at the mercy of those who want that property without any check whatever? If there be difficulties such as have been described, why does not the hon. and learned Gentleman introduce a Bill vesting in some Local Authority, say, the Local Government Board, acting by officials trained to dealing with such matters, the power to acquire land for the purpose? I refer to the Local Government Board for the officials of the Board have given satisfaction in all parts of the country where their intervention has been invoked. Why not bring in a Bill laying down certain lines upon which sites may be acquired for places of public worship wherever you have landlords acting obstructively and unnaturally, as they are represented to act sometimes? No doubt there are cases where a landlord may act in "a dog in the manger" manner, or he may desire to develop his property in some other, and as he thinks, a better way. But if there are other places where a building for purposes of public worship may be erected, why compel this one man to dispose of his land? If a landlord acts unreasonably let the case come before the officials of the Board, and let the Board proceed to act on the compulsory powers and on the lines Parliament may lay down for the purpose, and to govern such cases. But in this case you establish a power of private interference with private rights. I am not here to deny the right of Parliament to interfere, but I do deny the right of Parliament to interfere with private rights except on grounds of public interest. The hon. Member who introduced the Bill and 1102 those who have followed him have said that the Bill comes before us in the light of a recommendation of the Town Holdings Committee. Now I have the greatest respect for the legal acumen of the hon. Member for Glamorgan, but with great respect I think he is mistaken on this point.
§ MR. AMBROSE
What was the recommendation of the Committee on Town Holdings? The Committee think that it is most desirable on public grounds that all Public Bodies should he enabled to obtain and secure the tenancy of places of worship and schools, and they consider that freeholders who have granted land for such purchases should agree to it being so held in perpetuity on receiving the full value of their interest.
§ COLONEL NOLAN
It was another Report I referred to containing a stronger recommendation — that the leasehold ought to be enfranchised.
§ MR. AMBROSE
I have looked through the Report, and this, I think, is the only one dealing with the question. They Report that they have taken certain evidence and they reserve further questions. Let me point out what this recommendation involves. They consider that a freeholder having granted land for such a purpose, there is good reason for it being so held in perpetuity. That involves simply the case of the freeholder who has granted, and the trustees on the other hand of the chapel or school. The freeholder has granted the land for the purpose of chapel or school, and anybody will readily understand and quite appreciate that when a freeholder has granted a plot of land for a chapel, that he would naturally suppose that the trustees would want it in perpetuity, that it having been appropriated to purposes of public worship there would be a sort of consecration about it, that it would be sacred in the eyes of those who worship there. Although I do not go the whole length of accepting the view of the Committee, I appreciate that this is a totally different case from the ordinary claim for enfranchisement, and the landlord must have had in view that the land was expected in all probability to be held in perpetuity. Further, the capital laid out upon it ought to be taken into con- 1103 sideration by every landlord, in giving some sort of equitable consideration to those who have taken the site. We may presume that when a landlord grants a lease to trustees, and they expand this capital, that at the end of 40 or 50 years it is understood that their right will not be materially interfered with. But is this in the Bill? The Bill does not require that the freeholder shall have granted a lease for the purpose of building a chapel upon the land; it does not require that any religious community shall have spent a farthing upon the erection of a building. It interferes with the deferred interests of the landlord; it interferes with the rights of the reversioner which may come into operation in the course of two or three years from the granting of the lease. Now what is the Bill?From and after the passing of this Act, the trustees of a religious body shall have the right to acquire the fee simple of or freehold or other reversion expectant upon the determination of any lease or term under or for which a place of religious worship is held by or for such religious body.That is to say any religious body who have got possession of a building which they use for purposes of religious worship may claim it suddenly in the terms of the Bill and oust the owner. Why, the freeholder who is thus to be denuded of his right, may have had no voice in the letting of the building, it may be held under a sub-lease for a short term or even under a tenancy from year to year; and is a religious body, who may happen to have got possession of any building, and who use it for purposes of religious worship, to come under the provisions of this Bill, and demand that the freeholder shall sell his reversion? Now it is asked what object can a freeholder have in wishing to get possession of a chapel? Well, many of the leases under which trustees have possession may have been granted for a short time, merely because the freeholder has the residue of a term on his hands, and knowing at the end of 10 years or so the building will have to be pulled down he may have other building schemes in view, he may want the site for a public institution or a hotel—I do not mean simply a place for the sale of drink, I mean for the hotel accommodation necessary in every community. He may want it for a hospital, a market place, or for any other public 1104 purpose, but the existence of this right will prevent the freeholder from using the site for a purpose that he may have had in contemplation for many years. If this enfranchisement scheme is brought into operation it may defeat the entire plan for the development of property of which the site of the chapel may form a small part. Of course, there may be cases in which a right of this kind may be necessary. Granted that members of a religious community should be able to have a place to worship in. I presume that if any right of the kind is conferred there must be proper compensation for the owner. But the hon. Members seem to ignore the extreme difficulties incident to the acquisition of reversionary rights. Hon. Members have not quite correctly expressed the opinion of the Committee on leasehold enfranchisement.
§ MR. AMBROSE
They have drawn attention to the advantages and disadvantages. But I pass from that, which is not the question now. They have expressed a general, though not a strong disapprobation; their opinion is not in favour of leasehold enfranchisement. But they were dealing with the simple case of a lease granted by the freeholder. But this Bill will disturb all sorts of interests. Take the case of Trustees who have got a chapel on a part of a larger property. They may hold it from a leaseholder who derives £50 from that and £100 from another portion, and who pays £100 to the superior ground landlord. There are almost endless ramifications existing in the division of interests as a matter of every-day life, and you cannot insert such a principle as this in the Bill without causing the greatest amount of disturbance of the interests of all concerned. "Wherever leasehold enfranchisement," say the Committee, "is resorted to, it should be in the form of awarding full compensation and the payment of all costs." Now, this Bill professes to deal with the question of compensation; but the proposal is that the whole of the money shall be paid into the County Court, and then, instead of following the procedure under the Lands Clauses Act, whereby the interest of everybody is guarded, the various interests are to fight it out among themselves as to the proportion in which the 1105 money is to be divided, and not only so, but they are to do it at their own cost, for by the terms of the Bill it is provided that when the sum to be paid is settled by the Court, that sum is to be paid into the Court, and the Trustees have nothing more to do with the matter; but the Court makes an order for division as it thinks proper. Trustees buy a chapel, and the compensation is assessed at £2,000. The immediate landlord is entitled to some portion of this, but he has a superior landlord, and his interest is affected by mortgages and settlements. I can assure hon. Gentlemen I am not drawing on my imagination; it is a matter of every-day life to find mortgages and settlements overriding ground rents, and these things are conditions attaching to every title. But the provisions of the Bill leave it for all these persons—the first landlord, the second landlord, the third landlord may be, the ultimate reversioner of the fee-simple—every claimant to compensation —to fight out the matter in the Court at his own cost.
§ MR. S. T. EVANS
Will the hon. and learned Gentleman allow me to say he is mistaken? If he will turn to Clause 5 he will see that the Court is to settle the amount of purchase money to be paid for the purchase of the respective interests of the persons beneficially interested. It is not payment in a lump sum.
§ MR. AMBROSE
Shall settle the amount of compensation for the respective interests; and then the Bill goes on to say that the amount shall be paid into Court, and the Court shall divide it between the parties according to their respective claims. That is a totally different provision to that found in the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act. There you have proper provision for every interest. There is no payment into Court at all unless there is a difficulty about the title. Wherever a man makes out his title his interest is secured. But here the whole amount is to be paid by a lump sum into Court. It is quite true there is the word "respective" which escaped my attention, but that does not alter my view. The Bill provides that the amount is to be paid in a lump sum, and then the parties have to determine at their own cost the proportions to which they are entitled. I have no hesitation in saying that in nine cases out of ten, 1106 by the time the apportionment is determined, there will be nothing left to divide. I ask hon. Gentlemen what is the necessity for this? It may very well be that there is a chapel next door; there may be a sits within a few hundred yards available at a reasonable price; yet, according to the Bill, the Trustees will be entitled to proceed compulsorily to the enfranchisement of a particular site. How can such a proceeding on the part of Trustees be justified? Although adjoining, or in the immediate vicinity, there may be a vacant site available, are the Trustees still to have full liberty to compulsorily acquire the property of another person? Surely such a proposition is absurd and inequitable, and cannot be justified. Even though there may be here and there a case of hardship, are Trustees, having entered into a contract to give up possession at the end of a certain term, to be allowed to repudiate that part of their contract? I cannot see how a Religious Body—Church of England, Catholic, or Dissenting—can justify the repudiation of an agreement unless there is some real wrong in the matter which is pointed out. It seems to me that there can be only one justification for a Bill of this kind, namely, that which is presented by Railway Companies and others who come to take land compulsorily—the necessity of the case. Granted that they are necessary, then I will give you all the powers you require. Show the necessity. But I object to your being the judges in your own cause. If the London and North Western Railway Company wanted powers to take land, I should object to their being the judges of the necessities of the case. I would rather that they should go before a Committee of the House of Commons, or some official of the Local Government Board, who, acting on definite rules, would say whether or not a case of necessity has arisen. Then, when you have got that system, you want the means of securing due compensation. This Bill ignores that altogether. It is idle to contend that the County Court Judge is a proper tribunal to assess compensation in cases of this kind. The County Court Judge has already enough work to do without having business of this kind thrust upon him. Moreover, the valuation of lands and premises is not to be carried out by 1107 rule of thumb, upon the evidence of a set of sworn valuers, a gang of men who would be brought forward for the purpose of running down the value of land in favour of those who sought to acquire it. The County Court Judge, as a matter of fact, would do what I have been told is often done by valuers who have not shown the largest amount of zeal and activity, that is to say, would sum up the total of the valuations and then strike a mean between them. The true secret of our liberty is the protection afforded by our Constitution to private rights. We value men's private rights, and we only sacrifice them when it is necessary to do so for the public good. But this Bill proceeds on wrong lines altogether, and I shall vote against it.
§ (3.35.) MR. H. LAWSON
I think the House will understand from the support given to the Bill from all quarters that this is not a Welsh question alone, and that its defence will not necessarily be conducted in the Welsh dialect. An attack was made upon it, first of all, by the hon. Member for Bradford (Mr. Byron Reed), to whom the mention of a place of worship is like the waving of a red rag before a bull, and excites in him all the passions of the odium theologicum. The hon. Member immediately proceeded to drag in the Liberation Society, which has no more to do with this Bill than he has himself. He feels obliged to drag that body into every Debate in which he takes part, like King Charles's head in Dickens's novel. We do not wish to deal with the question as depending on the establishment or disestablishment of the Church. That is foreign to the Bill; and if the hon. Member could only be induced to realise that, it might be possible to persuade him to vote in the same Lobby with us. As a matter of fact, the Church of England enjoys far larger powers of compulsion in this matter than my hon. Friend proposes in the Bill. By the Act of 1818, for promoting the building of additional churches, supposing the Commissioners under the Act think "it proper and expedient" that any church should be built or any existing building enlarged, they have power to acquire whatever land is required. I could understand some objection being taken to the powers conferred by that Bill; but if we believe 1108 in the maxim that "equity loveth equality," I cannot see that, when the Church of England enjoys such powers, we should not give to the Nonconformists the right not of acquiring, but of retaining, their property.
§ MR. H. BYRON REED
I pointed; out that the powers held by the Church are practically never used, and that a Bill has been proposed to repeal them.
§ MR. H. LAWSON
He said that a Bill had been brought forward to repeal them by some hon. Member. But that Member is not the Archbishop of Canterbury, and I do not know by whose authority he acts, nor, in fact, who he is. The hon. Member's statement proves nothing to us except that it reveals a latent suspicion that the powers of the Church must soon be extended to other bodies also. The hon. and learned Member who preceded me in the Debate has not contributed much to the elucidation of the question. He had not the advantage of sitting on the Committee for some six years as we had; and though he has glanced at the Report, he has not taken the trouble to understand the recommendations which were supported by every Conservative and Unionist Member on the Committee, and which are in the direction of my hon. Friend's Bill. I would point out to the hon. and learned Member that there is not a word in the recommendations about a term of 30 or 40 years being the period of the original grant. Their recommendation is that in all places all Religious Bodies should have power to acquire their buildings and schools.
§ MR. LAWSON
The hon. Member said something about 30 years. The Committee were opposed to the Leasehold Enfranchisement Bill, but they supported the principle that the localities should be empowered to acquire estates, and then sell them in severalty to the various occupiers. That is not pertinent to this Bill, but I give this as an illustration to show that the hon. and learned Member is mistaken as to the meaning of the recommendations of the Committee. We took evidence for several years on the question of the tenure of chapels, and there was riot a single case brought before us where there were any intermediate leases. In every case in 1109 Wales and the country districts in England, and even in London, there was a direct lease given by the owner of the land for the erection of the chapel, and the only persons affected, therefore, would be those holding the immediate leases. That disposes of some of the objections the hon. and learned Member raises.
§ MR. LAWSON
They have been read already. The Committee say, however, that they think it desirable on public grounds that all Religious Bodies should be able to obtain secure tenure of sites for places of worship and schools, and that freeholders who have granted land for that purpose have no good reason to object to this arrangement, his interests being secured by payment of fair compensation. We do not propose to do away with that compensation. On that Committee there were, of course, a majority of supporters of the Government. We had such men on it as Lord Radnor, the hon. Member for Essex, the hon. Member for the Kingston Division of Surrey, and all the " Church and State men "—as the hon. Member for Bradford would call them—voting for, or rather not voting against, this proposal, which was moved by the Chairman, and carried unanimously. Who, I ask, are the best people to judge of the necessities of Nonconformist Bodies? Those who belong to the Church of England, like the hon. Member for Bradford, and who have simply formed an opinion of the Bill from a hasty perusal of a Blue Book in the Library this morning, or the Members of the Committee, say the necessity for this Bill is clearly shown by the evidence submitted to the Town Holdings Committee. That Committee heard a great deal of evidence from different bodies in Wales, and particularly from Festiniog, and it appeared that the members of Nonconformist chapels there desire nothing more than to be able to obtain a secure position for their places of worship and to be exempt from the chance of a refusal to renew the lease of their chapels to which they are attached by every sort of memory and association. Evidence was given from Sheffield in one case to show that 1110 when the lease of a Wesleyan Chapel in a densely-populated district fell in, the ground rent, which had been £8 16s., was raised by the Duke of Norfolk to £100, the surrender of a 14 years' lease, which was equivalent to a premium of £1,500. I do not mention that to the detriment of the Duke of Norfolk, but to show that at the termination of the lease the lessees frequently find that the landowner asks an absolute rack-rental at a commercial figure, just as if the chapel were a warehouse or public house, or any other place devoted to purposes of trade. It is obvious that a congregation consisting of working men are utterly unable to pay the same rent that might be paid for a building out of which large profits have been earned, derived from advantages of situation. Does the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite think that in his own Division a congregation who had been worshipping in a particular spot would think they met with just and equitable treatment if they had to surrender their building in order to enable a public house or an hotel to be erected instead? Hotels are, no doubt, very useful buildings, but they need not take the place of chapels any more than they need take the place of churches. Why, I ask, should the Nonconformists be denied that privilege which is given to the Church of England? I have a Return of leasehold Congregational chapels in London, and from that it appears that within a few years 48 chapels in London have ceased to exist, the land on which they stood having been devoted to trading-and other purposes. The leases were determined because the terms of renewal could not be met. Many of these were historical temples of various sects As many more are now in the same precarious condition. In one case a lease will' shortly expire, the ground rent reserved by which is £100. That is to be raised to £500; and as that cannot be found, a chapel which originally cost £18,000 will be lost. There is much bitterness and soreness of spirit engendered by the present hardships, and I hope the House by reading this Bill a second time will do their best to remove what is really an inequality and an injustice, and, what is equally important, will remove that cause of inequality and injustice which works so much evil.
§ (3.55.) THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. MATTHEWS, Birmingham, E.)
I have personally very great sympathy with many of the sentiments expressed by the supporters of the Bill. I do not myself belong to the Church of England. On the contrary, I belong to a Religious Body which, I suppose, has been more unpopular than any other in England. The difficulty that body has experienced in obtaining sites for places of worship has been extraordinary. We have been obliged to take refuge in mews, being unable to get into the public streets; therefore, my personal sympathies are with those who favour some legislative means of -acquiring sites in cases in which they cannot otherwise be obtained. But, nevertheless, looking at the matter as a lawyer and a legislator, it seems to me that the only principle on which this Bill can be defended has been completely passed over. I have heard no attempt made to justify the general principle of applying the machinery of compulsion to the acquisition of sites for places of public worship. The House of Commons has always been extremely jealous of taking away any man's property by compulsion unless at least two leading conditions are fulfilled, namely, first that the object is one of obvious and clear public utility; and, secondly, that the machinery of compulsion is the necessary machinery to carry out the object. I hope no one will think that I do not regard religious objects as matters of a most useful character; but the question whether a religious object is one of public utility must depend upon the extent of the Religious Body with which you have to deal. In England, for instance, the Roman Catholics can make no pretensions of that sort, because they are only a small and disregarded body; but in Ireland the case with them is different, as the great majority of the people belong to the Roman Catholic Church. In Ireland the erection of Roman Catholic churches may be regarded as an object of public utility, but in that country—and I hope I shall offend no one when I say it—the antagonism between the Roman Catholic Church and the former Established Church is as deep and bitter as in any other country in the world. I am not imputing blame to anyone, but merely 1112 recognising the fact. Still, the antagonism of the landowners to the popular religion in Ireland has not prevented the erection of churches, so that even where public utility is established in a matter of this sort, I do not think it can be shown that it is a matter of public necessity. It is clear that the operations of voluntary purchase have been sufficient in Ireland. As to the evidence given before the Town Holdings Committee with regard to Lord Penrhyn's property at Festiniog, the only reason why chapel sites were not conveyed in fee was that there were restrictive covenants in Lord Penrhyn's settlement which prevented his doing so. For some mysterious reason this Bill ignores altogether the Lands Clauses Consolidation Act and other carefully-prepared provisions, and seeks to lump the whole thing into the hands of the County Court Judges; but no County Court Judge could go behind Lord Penrhyn's settlement. I quite agree that the sentimental feeling which underlies this idea is a most respectable one, and one which will have the sympathy of every man; but I am not prepared to concede that even the weight given to religious sentiment is sufficient, without the condition of public necessity which the House of Commons ought to require to be established, to justify embarking in legislation which will compulsorily deprive a man of his property. The comparison which has been made between the Church of England and Nonconformists is not a proper one. The theory of legislation in this country in the past has been that the Church of England embraces the great majority of the public, and that, therefore, to give compulsory powers to the Church of England is to supply a public want. Take, again, the past legislation in regard to schools. School Boards have been established in this country, and accordingly compulsory powers of purchase have been extended to them. When you come to the managers of elementary schools, who do not represent the population of that locality, you do not give the power of acquiring a site otherwise than by agreement. That is the distinction between the two. It is not very perfectly carried out; but that is the idea, that in order to vest anybody with the compulsory power of purchasing private property, you must make out that it represents 1113 the general public and not simply a section of the public, however interested and deserving of sympathy that section may be. That has been the principle which has pervaded our legislation. The necessity of relaxing that principle in the case of a railway arose from the fact that they dealt with a number of owners, and the dissent of any one might paralyse the whole scheme unless they had compulsory power. Therefore, I repeat, upon the general principle, that this is a case in which, whether compulsory powers ought to be granted or not, it seems to me the promoters of the Bill have not made out their case. Speaking for myself, and not on behalf of the Government, while I most sincerely sympathise with those Religious Bodies who are seeking to obtain a resting place for their feet in which they may worship after their own fashion, I feel that the interests of property are so affected that I must vote against the proposal in the present Bill. Speaking with the greatest possible respect for the hon. Member who introduced this particular legislation, I must say that anything more crude and unsatisfactory I have not seen, and I hope the hon. Member will take it back and re-consider it. The recommendation of the Town Holdings Committee is not what this Bill proposes. It is that when the freeholder has granted a lease for the erection of a place of worship there should then be power to convert that into a freehold. The Bill has not been limited to that. There is included in the Bill not only places of worship, but ministers' houses. I do not know if the representative of the Office of Works is present; but if a Dissenting minister takes a lease for a year of a villa in Regent's Park he may under this Bill go to the Office of Works and purchase it compulsorily. That is the way the Bill would work insidiously, and with several arms, because the art is all in the Definition Clause and in the unconsidered trifles of the Bill.
§ MR. S. T. EVANS
These words go together, and they are words which are constantly used in deeds and other documents—Places of worship or premises shall include any church, chapel, meeting house, manse, minister's house, held or enjoyed therewith.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
I do not see the use of putting in all that verbiage. The 1114 hon. Member has drawn his Bill so loosely that he does not know what he has done. He has not said that the chapel or meeting house is to be held under the same lessor as the minister's house, but that they are to be enjoyed together. Therefore, I repeat that there may be a meeting house in Albany Street, the minister of which might hold a pleasant villa on Crown land in Regent's Park, and might enfranchise the whole on application to the County Court Judge of the district. A man lets a house to Mr. Jones. He does not know Mr. Jones; but it turns out that Mr. Jones is preaching in some chapel hard by, and thereupon the house becomes liable to enfranchisement. That is the clear effect of this Bill, and it is disrespectful to the House of Commons to ask it to consider so ill-drawn, so ill-considered, and so ill-defined a Bill as this. And, as if that were not sufficient, the Bill is retrospective, and is to affect all existing leases. The more one reads it, the more it appears full of pitfalls. It is not necessary that the lease, however short, should be in the freeholder. It may be in an intermediate owner. London is full of houses which are held upon building leases by leaseholders, and yet, under the circumstances I have mentioned, the. freeholder is to have his house taken from him, although he has no knowledge-of the fact. I do not know whether the hon. Member meant that. It is perfectly clear that even on the principles of the Town Holdings Committee-nobody should be dispossessed who has; not assented to the occupation. The hon. Member for Mid Glamorgan (Mr. S. T. Evans) knows as well as anybody the difficulties with respect to titles. There may be retrospective covenants of all kinds that bind the hands of occupiers. How are these difficulties to be met? The hon. Member, instead of taking the Lands Clauses Act, which deals with all these difficulties, selects the County Court Judge as the accessor of the value of the property. However learned lawyers the County Court Judges may be, I can hardly imagine anybody to whom I should be more unwilling to entrust the valuation of my property.
§ MR. S. T. EVANS
The Government made the Judge of the County Court the accessor under the Tithe Act.
§ MR. MATTHEWS
The County Court Judge was not made the assessor 1115 in any sense of the value of the property under the Tithe Act. He takes that from the Tithe Assessment Return, and what he has to do is to decide whether it is due or is paid. It has been denied in this Debate that places of worship ceased to be used for that purpose, but I have heard frequently of Nonconformist chapels being devoted to other purposes. Yet this Bill does not provide, as it ought to do, that the vendor who had sold under compulsion should have a right of preemption. Again, there is no hint in the Bill as to who is to pay the costs of litigation, but all the parties are to fight their own battle at their own expense. All these things detract from the usefulness of the Bill, which cannot be amended without being redrafted. I shall, therefore, feel obliged to oppose the Second Reading.
§ (4.20.) MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN (Denbighshire, E.)
I really am sorry for the right hon. Gentleman, as I am for any man who is obliged to say one thing while he thinks another. I think his impulses or natural instincts are preferable to the more laboured conclusion at which he has arrived "as a lawyer and a legislator." The case for the Bill is not quite the case of compulsory purchase of land. What the Bill provides is that when a lessor has already devoted land to religious purposes he should not be at liberty to withdraw it from those purposes. The Home Secretary said that before giving compulsory powers to anybody you must establish two things. First you must establish public utility, and, secondly, public necessity. I tried to understand what he meant by the test of public utility. As I understood him, if applied to England, it would probably involve the denial of a site for a Nonconformist chapel on the ground that the majority of the people belong to the Established Church, but that a different rule would apply to Ireland, because the great majority of the population are Roman Catholics. But has the right hon. Gentleman never heard of Wales? The case of Wales is peculiar, and it is one which is exactly met by this Bill. I am so satisfied that the Bill possesses the general approval of the Principality that I shall be very much surprised if any single Member for Wales goes into the Lobby against it. The case of Wales is peculiar for this reason, that the great 1116 majority of the people are Nonconformists, and nearly all the landlords in whom, of course, the powers of granting land for religious purposes are vested, are nearly all Churchmen. I could give the right hon. Gentleman many instances that would show the necessity for this Bill in Wales. With regard to the Report of the Town Holdings Committee respecting the Penrhyn estate, no doubt Lord Penrhyn was prevented, by the terms of his settlement, from giving grants of this kind in perpetuity. But we want to give him the power to do that which, I think, every landlord in Wales is, in simple justice, bound to do. I think the right hon. Gentleman was exceedingly hard on my hon. and learned Friend with regard to the drafting of the Bill. I do not think his comments were by any means justified. The right hon. Gentleman said the County Court was not the proper tribunal in a matter of this kind, but I would ask why was the County Court selected as the tribunal to which proceedings under the Tithe Rent Charge Act were to be taken? If the right hon. Gentleman looks again at the Bill he will see that it does not provide for the acquisition of a minister's house in the circumstances he assumed, because the words are "appertaining to the Church or held in connection therewith." If this Bill had been a purely Nonconformist Bill the hon. Gentleman who moved its rejection would naturally oppose it. But he is wrong in saying the Bill gives Nonconformists any exclusive privileges. It does nothing of the kind. The Bill applies to every religious body, and surely the hon. Member will not deny that the Church of England is a religious body. Going further, I assure the hon. Gentleman that this Bill is really wanted not only in the interest of Nonconformists but in the interest of the Church of England itself. I will give a case in point. Some years ago I had sittings at a chapel-of-ease in the West of London. The lease of that chapel came to an end, and the landlord refused to renew on the ground that the doctrines of the eloquent minister who occupied the pulpit were not orthodox. The result of the refusal to renew was that the whole congregation was scattered, and I lost the opportunity of listening to one of the most eloquent preachers it has ever been my fortune to hear. I thought, and still think, that was a very 1117 hard case. The hon. Gentleman objected to the use of the words "religious bodies."
§ MR. H. BYRON REED
I did not object to that term, but to the absence of a definition of it by the hon. Member opposite (Mr. S. T. Evans).
§ MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN
The words "religious bodies" have constantly been used in Acts of Parliament, without any definition at all. The term has what I may call a statutory definition assigned to it. Moreover, the definition is not necessary in this Bill, because in every case the lessor has already, by granting the lease to them, recognised the lessees as the representatives of a particular religious body. It does not lie in the mouth of the hon. Gentleman to complain that he does not know what that religious body is. Then the hon. Gentleman went on to complain that County Courts were overworked. I very much doubt if that is the case. Bat what is the meaning in that case of throwing upon them the enormous burden which the Tithe Act entails? If this Bill scourges them with rods, the Tithe Act scourges them with scorpions. The burden thrown upon them by this Bill will not be a hundredth part of that thrown upon them by the Tithes Act. If it were conceivable that landlords will be deterred from granting leases, while I do not think many will follow that principle, I hope if they do, that it will be done just before a General Election; for if anything could make a man justly unpopular it would be an action of that kind. The Home Secretary asked what was the necessity for this Bill. My answer to that is the evidence taken before the Select Committee. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Harrow asserted that the Town Holdings Committee were not unanimous in approving the principle of the Bill. I do not agree with him.
§ MR. AMBROSE
What I said was that they were not in favour of the general principle. They reported against it as far as they could.
§ MR. G. OSBORNE MORGAN
We have nothing to do with the general principle now. What I asserted was, first, that on this particular question the Committee were unanimous, and, secondly, that the Report was conclusive. This Bill is founded on the recommendations of that Committee on which there 1118 was a majority of Conservative Members. I support it not only in the interests of my constituents, with whom this is a burning question, but also on the general principles of justice, and I contend that hon. Members who oppose it in the interests of the Church of England will prove themselves the worst friends of that Church.
§ (4.33.) COLONEL HUGHES (Woolwich)
It has been said by several hon. Members that while they sympathise with the object aimed at in the Bill, there is so much fault to be found with the details of the measure that they cannot support the Motion for the Second Reading. I do not think that that is a good reason. I admit that many of the provisions of the Bill require considerable Amendment, but it is only a few. After all, it is only by means of expert assistance that a Bill can be drafted satisfactorily. I say that if hon. Members sympathise with its object they ought to vote for it, leaving the improvements in detail to be made in Committee. The principle is to enable Nonconformist and other religious bodies who hold leasehold places of worship to acquire the freehold. I do not think that the Bill goes beyond that; but I should desire to see some controlling authority instituted in order to secure that places are not taken on short terms with a view to the freehold being afterwards acquired compulsorily. There can be no doubt that hardship is suffered by the Nonconformist and other religious bodies, and I could quote a case which occurred in my own parish. In that place when there were 300 or 400 houses the Church of England kept aloof, so the Wesleyans came forward. They were unable to get a freehold site, and had to be content with a leasehold, and to pay a ground rent. Under the circumstances they only felt justified in putting up a temporary iron building, but immediately it was seen that they were prospering, the Church of England came in and soon got a freehold on reasonable terms, and not by compulsion, simply because they had an Act of Parliament at their back; why should this difference of treatment prevail? I contend that if as a question of public utility and benefit, places of worship should be encouraged, then the privileges hitherto enjoyed by the Church of England should be extended to other 1119 bodies, to the extent, at least, of enabling them to obtain freehold habitations for all properly-conducted religious establishments. It has been suggested that places used temporarily for purposes of religious work would come under the operation of this Bill. I hope not. For instance the Volunt3er drill hall, in my own particular locality, is used on Sundays for religious services, and of course it is not intended that persons so using it should be able to acquire the freehold, that would be absurd. I recognise what is intended by the Bill and although there may be many mistakes in the drafting I shall support it because of the principle which it embodies. I hold we ought to encourage religious effort in every direction. We ought where we can to give these bodies a permanent habitation and home. There are many chapels which, when they get out of debt, will become the property of the landlord by reason of the expiry of the lease, and then they will have to be bought over again. That is not as it should be, and, therefore, I support the Bill, knowing that it may be amended, where necessary, in Committee.
§ (4.40.) MR. A. ELLIOT (Roxburgh)
I should like to point out that the Bill not only deals with existing, but with future leases, and the effect of it in the case of future leases will be to hinder the landlord from granting the use of land for a temporary purpose. At present the landlord can, if it suits him, let to trustees of religious denominations; but if the Bill becomes law he will be unable to do so without protecting himself by the clauses of his lease, or the tenants will a few years later take him before the County Court Judge in order to compel him to part with the fee simple. The promoters of the Bill argue that its object is to facilitate the acquisition of land by religious denominations; but do they think that the measure will operate in that direction? I think, on the contrary, that it would throw a difficulty in the way of landlords using their land in the direction contemplated; it will cause the landlord to see that it will be to his own interest to keep the land under his own control. I agree with the hon. Member who last spoke, that all religious denominations should be treated on the same footing, and I see no reason why the privileges enjoyed by the Church of England should not be extended to other 1120 religious bodies. With regard to existing leases I have been astonished by the language of some hon. Members on the subject of the religious and sacred character which property acquires. I should like to ask whether it can be reasonably maintained that those who bargain for the use of land, say for 10 years, can claim-to have a better right than other people to the land after the expiration of that period because they have used it for sacred purposes? To uphold such a doctrine is contrary to common sense. They have bargained for the use of the land for a certain term; they have obtained possession of it under specified conditions; and they are bound to return it to the owner at the end of that period. It is an entire misreading of the religious aspect of the case to suppose that because land has been used for particular purposes the tenants possess greater rights than they would under ordinary circumstances. We are told it would be terrible sacrilege if at the end of the tenancy the land were used for secular purposes. But the Bill does not contemplate following the land after it has once got into the hands of the trustees of a religious body, and so it may happen that after once land has been purchased for the purpose of erecting a chapel on it the site may become much more valuable, and the trustees might be induced to sell it at a large profit, and to re-erect their place of worship on a less expensive site. They would, in fact, only be acting as rational men in doing so, especially if by doing so they could secure a more commodious and convenient chapel. It is not merely a question of the uses to which the land may be put. I fully admit that if there are great difficulties in acquiring land in Wales as sites for buildings for religious purposes, compulsory powers ought to be given. I would not allow the Established Church to remain in possession of a privilege of that kind, which is denied to other denominations; but I object to the Bill because it is a bad Bill, and it is thoroughly inequitable to come between two persons who have made a bargain on certain terms and say that they should vary those terms. I say that this Bill will inevitably defeat its own object, and prevent religious denominations enjoying what is an extreme convenience to them—the temporary occupation of land.
§ (4.46.) SIR H. VIVIAN (Swansea, District)
It is refreshing to hear a Bill of this nature supported by hon. Gentlemen opposite; but it is the very opposite to hear it opposed from these Benches. The hon. Member for Roxburghshire appears to be oppressed by the idea that these chapels are built for temporary purposes. I see nothing in the Bill to warrant the assumption that its object is to enable land to be acquired for temporary purposes.
§ MR. A. ELLIOT
The Bill deals not with the building of chapels, but the acquiring of land by trustees of religious bodies for temporary purposes.
§ SIR H. VIVIAN
Surely the hon. Member can draw a distinction between land taken for temporary purposes or for the purpose of erecting a permanent chapel. A temporary chapel is a most exceptional thing. I know a vast number of chapels, and I do not remember a single instance of building a chapel for temporary purposes. It is true that both the Church of England and the Nonconformists do at times put up temporary structures; but in 99 cases out of 100 they are replaced by substantial buildings. Therefore, it is no argument at all to say the land may be required for temporary purposes only. The hon. Member talks of a bargain being a bargain, but the question is whether those who make the bargain are precisely in the same position. The landowner says that he will not part with the freehold of the land, and will only give a lease for a term of years, and the Nonconformist has to consider whether he will submit to the hard terms of the landowner or forego his good work. Therefore, I do not consider that the argument that a bargain is a bargain has any validity. The object of this Bill is to give the right of acquiring freehold sites for buildings for religious purposes to those who cannot otherwise acquire them. There are very large properties in my district, one 11 miles in extent, and if the landowner had set himself against giving any site for Nonconformist places of worship the large population on that property would have been in a very unfortunate position. What this Bill seeks is to do away with an injustice of that kind and to enable those who are desirous of spending their money in erecting places of 1122 public worship to have the power to acquire a freehold. I very much regret that the Home Secretary has followed the example of the hon. and gallant Member for Galway, of whose conduct he himself complained, and has left; his seat, because I want to reply to some of the right hon. Gentleman's arguments. The right hon. Gentleman said that there was no justification for compulsory rights of purchase. Has it occurred to him that his speech showed that there is an absolute necessity for it. The right hon. Gentleman told the House of the terrible difficulty which the denomination to which he belongs has had in obtaining sites. Surely in such circumstances the right hon. Gentleman ought not to have argued that there is no justification for a Bill of this nature, and ought to be found in the same Lobby as the hon. Member for Glamorganshire. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to think that wherever land is taken by compulsory purchase it ought to he established that there is a necessity for taking it for some purpose of public utility. Well, is there any purpose of public utility greater than that of creating places of public worship? I say that the highest function we can perform is to create these places of worship. In my own district our population is increasing enormously. During the time I have had the honour of representing a constituency in Glamorganshire it has more than doubled. When I first represented the constituency the population was something like 300,000; I shall be very much surprised if it will not be found at this Census to be over 600,000. The power of church extension is excessively limited, and unless the people have the power of building their own places of worship the population will be irreligious, whereas in Wales we have one of the most religious populations in the world. That is entirely due to the efforts of the Nonconformists. It is necessary that they should have chapels, and is there any greater object of public utility than the building of places of worship? Therefore, if it is insisted that before you grant Parliamentary powers the question of public utility must be established, I think condition precedent can be easily proved. The right hon. Gentleman appeared to think that this 1123 was to some extent a question of the "extensiveness," as he called it, of a religions body. I do not agree with him; but may I point out that no religious body is likely to want to build a chapel unless it is really required. What limit of numbers could he possibly fix? The right hon. Gentleman also referred to the case of Ireland, and, comparing the Roman Catholic with the Protestant Church, said that no such Bill as this had ever been deemed necessary for that country. But it is no argument that because Ireland has been contented with the position of matters in that respect, and has felt no grievance therefrom, the powers we ask for should not be granted to the rest of the United Kingdom. The right hon. Gentleman next complained of the proposal to refer the question to the County Court, because he said no County Court had the power of tearing up a title. But what the promoters of the Bill desire is to grant some Court the power to give a title for the purposes of this measure. If Lord Penrhyn's settlements will not allow him to grant freehold sites for public worship he ought to have that power. It should be borne in mind that land is a fixed quantity, that population is continually increasing, and that it may lie in the power of one man to deny to those who desire them sites for places of worship. The right hon. Gentleman said the County Court ought not to be called upon to deal with questions of this kind. Well, I would suggest that in cases of dispute the matter might be referred to the County Councils for investigation, just as questions connected with land required for the construction of railways are inquired into by Select Committees of this House. The acquisition of a site must be a purely local question, and why should it not be referred to the local tribunal consisting of the representatives of the people? The right hon. Gentleman complained that the Bill was ill-drawn. He said that it was so ill-drawn as to be disrespectful to the House of Commons. I am bound to say I think that that is very strong language. But the right hon. Gentleman, although his Parliamentary experience has not been a long one, must perfectly well know the distinction between a Second 1124 Reading Debate and discussions in Committee. The greater portion of his speech was devoted to criticising small details, which, by a few words could easily be set right in Committee. I trust that the House, rising above all small Party considerations and prejudices in favour of the Established Church, will read the Bill a second time.
§ (5.5.) MR. BARTLEY (Islington, N.)
I wish to say a few words on this Bill. I was a Member of the Town Holdings Committee, and although I did not adopt the whole of the Report, I did approve of the particular clause which dealt with this subject, and I shall therefore vote for the Second Reading of this Bill. I am not a lawyer and cannot therefore say whether this Bill is properly drawn; but if it is not it can, no doubt, be amended in Committee. I take it that the principle of the Bill is that bonâ fide Dissenting Bodies shall have a right to purchase the freehold of the sites on which their chapels are built—I as a strong churchman support that. I object to the Church of England having powers in this respect if they are refused to Nonconformists; and as I do not like the idea of a Church of England being on a leasehold tenure, I understand a Nonconformist having the same sentiment. I believe that measures of this kind tend to implant religion more firmly on the land, and to remove jealousies. We want religion developed, and although we cannot all agree on one particular principle; it is only fair that one law should apply to the whole community. While supporting the Second Reading of this Bill, I do not pledge myself to the details.
§ (5.8.) MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON (Shropshire, Oswestry)
I regret to hear that the hon. Member who has just spoken intends to give his support to the Second Reading of this Bill, because I shall show that it is not drawn on the lines of the recommendation of the Select Committee. The hon. Member who in a very able speech moved the rejection of the Bill discussed the Report of the Select Committee on Town Holdings, and was contradicted in his assertions by the hon. Member for St. Pancras. Turning to the Report itself, I find that the Member for Bradford was right, and the Member for St. Pancras was wrong. The Committee contemplated that the land 1125 acquired for religious purposes should not be converted to other uses, but this Bill contains no provision against such conversion. The framers of the Bill have overlooked the word "so" in the Report of the Committee. The Committee recommend on public grounds that all religious bodies should be enabled to secure the freehold of the land on which their places of worship are built with a view to the land continuing to be so used. Therefore it was intended that land originally leased for religious purposes should, if the freehold is acquired compulsorily, continue to be so used, but this Bill does not in any way secure that. When the matter was under discussion before the Committee an Amendment was proposed securing to the original owner the right of repurchase in the event of the land ceasing to be used for religious purposes. I observe the established denominations of this Kingdom are asking for more endowment and more establishment. The fact should not be overlooked. They are already privileged, acknowledged, established. They desire more State privileges. I do not wish to oppose their wishes, but it should be remembered that there is nothing of a permanent nature in a great number of the religious bodies that spring up. They often only last for a few years. These different sects are constantly changing their local habitation, and if this Bill were to become law it might create inconvenience. For instance, a friend of mine owns land upon which a Wesley an chapel has been erected under a lease granted by his predecessor. The lease was put up to auction; the intending purchaser desired to use it as a beershop! If this Bill were to become law similar cases would often arise. The hon. Member for St. Pancras said there were no less than 48 religious bodies who have moved their sites within a very short time in the Metropolis alone. They are always moving from one site to another. Supporters of the Bill ought to define what they mean by religious bodies.
§ MR. LAWSON
The sects were driven from their chapels. The chapels were either palled down or put to other purposes.
§ MR. STANLEY LEIGHTON
What security is there under this Bill that they would not be pulled down, and 1126 the land on which they are built put to other purposes? It would be-well if the hon. Member would turn his attention to a definition of religious denominations. No definition has been. attempted. In Whittaker I see there are the Glory Band, the Nazarenes, the Secularists, the Church of Progress, the Deith-Hainediesh-Misnah Society amongst 250 others. Are they all religious societies which would come under this Bill? Where are we to draw the line? Any Member of this House may start a religious society in order to acquire the freehold of his present leasehold estate. Therefore, although I am quite prepared to support security of tenure to religious bodies, I am not prepared to support the Bill.
§ (5.19.) MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)
The hon. Member (Mr. Leighton) in the early part of his speech expressed himself in favour of the principle of the Bill, only taking exception to the details. But in the latter part of his speech the old leaven of animosity against Nonconformity could not help breaking out, and it broke out in the form to which we are accustomed. The hon. Member attempted to throw ridicule on his fellow citizens, who, I think have the cause of religion just as much at heart as the hon. Gentleman. 1 exceedingly regret the Home Secretary who was put up to represent the Government this afternoon is not present. The right hon. Gentleman took exception to "the principle of the Bill, and also to the details. I give up the details at once. I think they want re-consideration and amendment; but it is a perfectly new doctrine that you are to vote against the principle of a Bill on the Second Reading, because you do not approve of the details by which that principle is established. The hon. Member for Roxburghshire (Mr. A. Elliot) said that some Nonconformist Bodies are in the habit of taking land and using it for a place of worship for 5 or 10 years only. The Bill is not intended to meet such a case. What it is intended to meet is a case where Nonconformists have taken a lease of a piece of land, have, upon the strength of that lease made a large expenditure of money raised by voluntary subscription. We say, that at the expiration of the lease the body should not be dispossessed from their place of worship. There is no 1127 proposal in the Bill for confiscation; there is no proposal to take from the landlord one atom of the property that belongs to him. On the contrary, there is a provision that the landlord shall be paid to the last penny the full value of the land. The Home Secretary is opposed to the principle. He had a number of eggs to dance over, and he danced over them with his accustomed dexterity. That blessed word compulsion is not a word that is in favour on the other side of the House. But there is legislation on the Statute Book which the hon. Member for Wigan (Mr. F. S. Powell) is exceedingly anxious to get off the Statute Book. There is legislation giving the Church of England compulsory powers to buy land for the purpose of churches, burial grounds, and parsonages with ten acres of ground in addition. The supporters of this Bill want Nonconformists to be placed on the same level. The Home Secretary, however, appears to argue that though it is desirable to give compulsory powers for the acquirement of land for churches, it is not desirable to grant similar powers for chapels. The other day the centenary of John Wesley's death was celebrated in the chapel he built on leasehold ground in the City Road. The Wesleyans had to pay to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners £10,000 on the expiration of the lease. Suppose the Ecclesiastical Commissioners had said, "We will not grant you a renewal of the lease, no matter what the associations of the chapel are to you." According to the Home Secretary that would be a legitimate exercise of the rights of property. There are rights of property which ought to be interfered with, and which hon. Gentlemen opposite, when they go to their constituents will advocate being interfered with. I do not pledge myself to the details of the Bill, but I am going into the Lobby with my hon. Friend (Mr. S. T. Evans).
§ (5.26.) MR. E. S. POWELL (Wigan)
It is an entire mistake to suppose that the Church of England has, for any practical purposes, the power to acquire land compulsorily. In the early part of this century the House granted a large sum of money for the building of churches, and very naturally accompanied the grant with compulsory power to purchase. But the power has only 1128 been exercised on one occasion, and that was in 1820. So cumbrous is the procedure, and so difficult is the Act to work, that the power is not a real operative power, and will, I trust, soon be abolished.
§ (5.28.) MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
I heartily support the Bill, because I believe its principle to be perfectly fair and equitable, though I agree with the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton that the details will have to be very fully considered in Committee.
§ MR. LEES KNOWLES (Salford, W.)
May I ask whether the promoters of the Bill would be prepared to insert in Committee a clause giving a right of pre-emption in cases where the building ceases to be used for religious purposes?
§ (5.29.) The House divided:—Ayes 218; Noes 110.—(Div. List, No. 148.)
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.