HC Deb 12 February 1891 vol 350 cc558-72

Order for Second Reading read.

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

(10.30.) MR. CONYBEARE

I cannot allow the Second Reading of this Bill to pass without a challenge. I do not know whether there are any of my colleagues in the representation of Cornwall present; but I shall certainly be prepared to take a Division upon the Bill unless we receive some explanation of it. From the hesitating way in which the right hon. Gentleman moved the Second Reading, I am inclined to think he does not know much about the Bill, but it is scarcely courteous to the Members of the House that any measure should be moved without a word of explanation. I will read the Preamble to the Bill— Whereas in pursuance of the Truro Chapter Act, 1878, a canonry in the cathedral church of Exeter has been transferred to and forms part of the Truro Chapter Endowment Fund, subject to an annual charge in favour of the Archdeaconry of Cornwall of three hundred and thirty-three pounds six shillings and eight pence, which charge has been since the recent avoidance of the same archdeaconry reduce to two hundred pounds a year. Although I know something about the political, if not the ecclesiastical, arrangements of Cornwall, I confess I do not quite appreciate the logic of that part of the Preamble. The Preamble goes on— And whereas it is expedient that the said sum of two hundred pounds a year, being the future stipend attached to the said archdeaconry, should be paid out of the common fund of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners instead of out of the endowment of the said canonry. I should like to know why it is expedient? there is no reason alleged. I think, however, I could give a reason why it is expedient. We have a right to know why it is considered that this £200 should be paid out of the Common Fund of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners? What I think is the true reason is that the Cathedral at Truro is what is called in vulgar parlance a white elephant to the Church Party. The building of the Cathedral was commenced some years ago under circumstances which reflected great credit upon the generosity, if not on the common sense, of the members of the Church of England in Cornwall. It was thought it was absolutely necessary, in order to convert the miners of Cornwall from their evil ways, belonging as they do to the Wesleyan persuasion, that a Cathedral should be planted in their midst, and consequently the good people put their hands in their pockets and subscribed a large fund for the purpose of erecting a Cathedral at Truro. Any lovers of Church architecture who have not seen the Truro Cathedral would do well to visit it; it is a fine building, and shows that the art and ability to construct magnificent places of worship is not yet dead in this country. The erection of the Cathedral was placed in the hands of the eminent architect, Mr. Pearson, and Mr. Pearson's original estimate was that the entire building, choir, nave, central tower, and two western towers would cost £95,000. I believe I am right in saying that more than £100,000 has been spent already, and only one-third of the Cathedral is at present erected—that is to say, the choir, central lantern up to the ridge of the roof, and the baptistry are the only parts which have as yet been completed. The foundation stone which was carefully installed by itself in a portion of the vacant ground where the nave is one day to be built has yet to be reached, and now stands as a monument of the improvidence of those who undertook so great a work without setting down and counting the cost. Cornwall is a poor county. The people in the county who belong to the Church are no doubt the richest portion of the community, but they are not the most numerous, and although a great deal of money has been collected outside the county I apprehend that the question of the endowment of this great Cathedral is one of very great difficulty to those who are, and ought to be, the main support of the diocese—namely, the Church inhabitants, residents, landowners, and so on of the County of Cornwall. There has been a great deal of difficulty in getting together enough money for the adornment of the Cathedral itself, and I believe that great difficulty exists to find the £3,000 a year which is necessary to support the different ecclesiastics and others connected with the service of the Church according to the regulation and style of conducting Cathedral Institutions. I have not the slightest doubt that this Bill has been brought in to supplement the efforts of the Church people to raise a sufficient endowment for their ecclesiastics and Cathedral Institution in Cornwall by taking this £200 a year out of what I may say is a public fund for the purpose of allocating it to a particular purpose in this way. Beyond that I do not know that there is a very great deal to be said either for or against the Bill. At first sight it would appear that it is merely a transfer of Church funds from one body of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to another body; that is to say, the ecclesiastical people connected with the Cathedral Church at Truro. But then comes in this important point: The day will come, no doubt, when we shall be engaged in the work of disestablishing and disendowing the Church of England. It will then be pleaded that this £200 has been given over to the Cathedral Church at Truro in such recent times that it ought to be excluded from the rule which would bring about a general disendowment. I maintain you have in the funds belonging to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners funds which belong to the nation, and which will, when disendowment takes place, come to be used for national purposes, purposes perhaps connected with education and the like. If this transfer takes place it will be competent for the Church Party in Cornwall to say, "This endowment is quite of modern origin; we have been given this money for a specific purpose, and you cannot rightly take it away from us." I do not think there is any other point in regard to which I need trespass longer upon the attention of the House. I must, however, say I hardly think it reflects credit on the Representatives of Cornwall that when a Bill of this kind is brought forward there should be none of them present except the Chairman of the Committee (Mr. Courtney) and myself.

(10.49.) THE SOLICITOR GENERAL (Sir E. CLARKE, Plymouth)

I think it is very likely the other Representatives of Cornwall are not here this evening because they have had an opportunity of considering this Bill, not only this Session but last Session, when it was in the hands of private Members, and they are quite satisfied that there is no foundation for the fears which have just been expressed by the hon. Member for Camborne. I think that if the hon. Gentleman had taken the trouble to study the Act of 1878, he, too, would have got over his fears. This is simply the transfer of Church property from one diocese to another. It was provided in the Act of 1878 that after the first vacancy in the Archdeaconry of Cornwall the amount to be received by the Archdeacon should be reduced to £200 a year, and it was further provided by the 11th section that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners should not have the power to pay it directly out of the Common Fund. It is most desirable that the payment should be transferred directly to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. There is not the slightest ground for the supposition that anyone will cite the fact that we have passed this Bill in 1891 as a modern endowment of the Archdeaconry. It is clear upon an examination of the Bill in connection with the Act of 1878 that there is no additional charge at all. It is a mere matter of book-keeping, and I need not inform hon. Members who are looking forward to the time when the funds of the Church may be appropriated to other purposes, there is no form in which those funds can be more easily available than the form in which they lie with the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.

(10.54.) MR. PICTON (Leicester)

We have a general objection to Bills of this kind. We think the House ought always to be unwilling to manipulate Church funds except in one case, and that is to appropriate funds entirely to secular purposes. I understand that this £200 is to be paid out of the Common Fund of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. What is the Common Fund of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners? It is the Socialistic Fund of the Church. I suppose it is employed in helping poor livings, and in relieving poverty-stricken parishes; in levelling up where the state of ecclesiastical funds is considerably below the general average. It is a benevolent fund, intended, so far as it is possible under the circumstances, to do justice. Now, is it fair that this fund should be robbed for such as that of restoring an endowment which was appropriated in the year 1878? I think it is very improper. For all we know some poor living will very likely go without this £200 a year, because the Common Fund of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners will not be able to afford to make a grant on account of this drain upon it. We are continually told by enlightened and superior persons that we are quite wrong in talking about ecclesiastical endowments as national property, that they are the property of certain corporations, whether the corporations are sole or bodies of men. Yes, but the House, by continually encroaching upon the preserves of various corporations—taking money out of the purse of one corporation and handing it to another corporation—shows that in its opinion the money does not belong to the corporations in the same sense as whatever little money I have belongs to me, or whatever estates hon. and right hon. Gentlemen opposite may have belongs to them. The House of Commons would never dream of touching the estates of corporate towns, but the House knows that the estates of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners stand on a different footing. Therefore, though I dislike this Bill for the reasons I have stated, and think it will improperly take away money from a fund that is intended mainly for the poor and give it back to those who are better off, yet I welcome it as an additional illustration of the conviction that is so deeply rooting itself in the hearts and minds not only of Liberal but of Tory legislators that ecclesiastical funds do not belong to these corporations in the sense that property may belong to individuals. I know that legally they do, but there is a moral difference. As I have a strong objection to the Bill, I hope my hon. Friend the member for Camborne (Mr. Conybeare) will divide against it, and, if he does I shall certainly support him.

(10.56.) MR. ILLINGWORTH (Bradford, W.)

If there were any doubt—I will not say in the minds of legislators because I cannot conceive that there is a shadow of doubt in their minds, but in the minds of anybody that the property of Ecclesiastical Commissioners is national property—that doubt must now be dispelled. [Sir R. FOWLER: "Oh, oh!"] There is one exception. I do not know that the opinion of the House is likely to be swayed by the prejudices which occupy the mind of the right hon. Gentleman. The Church of Ireland was on every legal ground on all fours with the Church of England. When the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland took place, how did, parliament proceed? It appointed special Commissioners for the purpose of carrying out the disendowment of that church. The whole of the revenues of the Irish Church were swept into the coffers of that Commission, and life interests alone were satisfied by the Commissioners. That being so, I do not think we need concern ourselves with the question whether the property of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners is national property. It has been admitted on all side since these questions came up that tithe is national property. The leader of the House admitted it last Session, and on this side of the House I believe not a single voice is raised to express the contrary opinion. I want to know, however, why the House of Commons should be occupied with trivial legislation of this character. The hon. and learned Solicitor General says it is altogether a question of a single individual. I want to know why the time of the House of commons should at this moment be engaged in considering the interests of the Archdeacon of Cornwall. Why should the House of Commons be engaged in considering the interests of a single individual and the Archdeacon of Cornwall? Why is he not contented with the provision made in the previous Act? Why, year after year, are we considering these questions of bookkeeping? The right hon. Gentleman did not give us the facts. Is it to increase the endowment of the Cathedral of Exeter. Is it to return part of the money which, under the Truro Act of 1878, was with drawn from Exeter and given to this new See? I object to the Bill on the ground indicated by the hon. Member for Camborne. Cornwall is a county of Nonconformists. The people run no risk of relapsing into heathenism, though the Church were to relax all her efforts there. I know it is sometimes a plea put forward in favour of a system of Church Establishment, that if State recognition were withdrawn, our remote agricultural districts would be in danger of relapsing into heathenism. No doubt the hon. Baronet has that fear. Cornwall is another instance of that of which Wales is an eminent example. The Welsh people have made ample provision out of their convictions and their poverty for their modest religious requirements. True, they do not lavish thousands a year on a Cathedral and then come here for an additional £200 for an Archdeacon. I look upon this Bill as a covert insult to the religious people of Cornwall that the House of Commons should be engaged in thrusting upon them the manifestation of a hostile system of religion at the national expense, with all the pride and hauteur the system involves. The Government, it is well known, cannot get through its important business, and is obliged to take the time of private Members, and yet it turns aside from the business of Supply to make itself responsible for this frivolous proceeding. I think we ought to indicate to the dignitaries of the Church of England—for all these schemes come from another place—there is a mint royal for their manufacture. I think that whenever these frivolous Bills come before us we ought to say to the Church of England as a Religious Body that it ought to take the management of its affairs under its own control—not coming to the House of Commons for all these modifications, making the House of Commons responsible for these enactments, and the losses Religious Institutions must suffer because, forsooth, it prefers to be under the control of a foreign body rather than take in hand the management of its own affairs. I hope that a protest could be made on every occasion when such measures come before Parliament. There ought to be shown that there is in this House a growing determination to bring to a speedy end this state of things, and to bring about a change by which the Church of England shall manage its own affairs. I hope that in the Division we shall show an unanimity of feeling on this side of the House. I am sure the right hon. Gentleman the Chairman of Committees does not wish the House of Commons to be occupied with this trumpery business. I do not think he will be singular, but will show himself to be a true Representative of the people in his own division of Cornwall, and that there is but one feeling on the part of the people of that county—a feeling of protest against that which is rather more nor less than a sham institution in their midst.

(11.8.) MR. H. BYRON REED (Bradford, E.)

It is somewhat puzzling to know why the exception taken to this harmless necessary Bill by my hon. colleague opposite should lead up to a violent diatribe delivered by the hon. Gentleman against the Church of England generally, and in Cornwall in particular. The Bill provides for a redistribution of certain Church revenues in the See of Truro, and without it the redistribution cannot take place. We have long been aware of the strong views of my hon. Friend on Church matters, but this is a matter of simple conformity with the law of the land. The Bill has no opposition from Nonconformists in Cornwall, who, indeed, have nothing whatever to do with the matter. It is a necessary measure for the redistribution of Church Funds, and hon. Gentlemen opposite incur great responsibility by obstructing a piece of Church reform—for purposes which I will not specify, but which the House will understand. I support the Bill not only as a Churchman [Mr. CONYBEARE: "Church lecturer." Cries of "Order!"] but also because any measure of redistribution has to come under the criticism of Parliament. I believe that the Bill is acceptable to the people of Cornwall—Nonconformists as well as Churchmen—and it is in their interests that the measure has been introduced.

(11.10.) SIR G. TREVELYAN (Glasgow, Bridgeton)

We on this side of the House are quite willing to incur the responsibility of spending a certain time in the criticism of a measure to which the Government have thought it well to devote a very solid portion of an evening so early in the Session. More especially I think Scotch Members may say a word or two, for we cannot but reflect on the extent to which we have been sacrificed in this matter. It was in the course of the week that the first popular matter in relation to Scotland this Session was going to be brought forward when that evening was taken from us by the Government it was said for the Tithes Bill, but it turns out that of two Government evenings a considerable part of one is devoted to this measure. What is this measure? It is to give £200 a year from the general fund of the Church of England to a specific purpose. It is public money devoted to a public purpose. And to what purpose?


A church of England purpose.


Yes, I am speaking according to the law as it exists at present. I am not bound to express my opinions on every occasion as to what purposes public property ought to be devoted. The hon. Member who has a great interest, a lively interest in this subject—I speak with all respect and not satirically—agrees with me in that. We are told that this is Church property, but it is property of which this House is bound to see to the distribution. The proposal is to give £200 a year from the general fund of the Church of England, which is intended to be applied to the augmentation of poor livings, for the purposes of ostentation and show in a district where there is an enormous preponderance of Dissenters, to swell the endowment of the Dean and Chapter and the diocesan central arrangements in a new diocese. Now I just want right hon. Gentlemen to think what they are doing. In this country the rents of great districts may be paid into the hands of one person, and this man has a great responsibility in the manner in which he uses those rents. He is bound to provide for the education of the district. I will go further and say the landowner has no right to devote the rents of a great district of this kind to the exclusive endowment of a religion which is not professed by the great majority of the inhabitants. If that is not the case in Cornwall I do not know where it is. But, unfortunately, the diversion of great reserve funds of this kind is not for the practical purposes of religion, but for swelling the ostentatious and showy part of the Establishment. A bishopric cannot be founded unless the Bishop receives £3,500 a year, while in the august Church of France—[Cries of "Order!"] I am not aware that I am in any way out of order.


I was not suggesting that the right hon. Gentleman was not in order in what he was saying, but he was addressing hon. Gentlemen behind him, instead of addressing the Chair.


To please the hon. Gentleman I will look hard at him. In the august Church of France a Bishop is endowed with £1,000 a year; but in the Church of England you cannot have a principal clergyman to look after other clergymen without endowing him to the extent of £3,500 a year, an income equal to that of a large landed proprietor. You encourage in every possible way those people who have the wealth of the country, where, perhaps, the enormous majority of the people are Dissenters. You encourage them to provide the enormous capital sum to provide this income, but likewise to provide the Bishop with a house, with a committee of ladies to furnish it according to the latest style. In fact, the money which ought to go to the real interests of the Church in the district is devoted to religious ostentation and extravagance. I do not think that such a course is likely to add to the general popularity or the efficacy of the Church. This poor sum of £200 a year should be left in the hands of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners for the real purposes of the Church.

(11.17.) SIR R. FOWLER (London)

It is ungracious on the part of the right hon. Baronet to complain of the course the Government have taken this week. May I remind the right hon. Baronet that if the Government had not forced the Tithe Bill through its remaining stage this week the right hon. Gentleman opposite would not be able to bring forward his Motion with regard to Ireland next Monday. The hon. Member for Bradford, of course, is an enemy of the Church of England, and therefore we can understand his action.


I wish it to be understood that I am no enemy of the Church of England as a religious institution, but that I object to it as a privileged institution. I have not the slightest hostility to the Church, and the Church suffers more from her friends than from me.


I accept the hon. Gentleman's explanation. What I wished more particularly to say is this: that at the General Election of 1868, when ecclesiastical questions, and particularly the question of the Irish Church, were prominently before the country, I was returned by a Cornish constituency to oppose the Disestablishment of the Irish Church. That shows that the people of Cornwall are not so much opposed to the Established Church as hon. Members opposite would have the House believe. I know a very large proportion of the people of Cornwall are Wesleyans. I do not know that they can be called Nonconformists. John Wesley did not, I think, call himself a Nonconformist. However, this Bill has simply to do with the distribution of Church property, and I hope no other matters will be imported into the discussion to delay the Second Reading.

(11.23.) MR. MORTON (Peterborough)

I oppose the Bill because I object to money being taken from the Church funds for the purposes here contemplated. There are numbers of churches which cannot get any money from the Common Fund; they are told there is no money to spare. If the Ecclesiastical Commissioners can afford £200 a year to go to a rich Cathedral and a nearly useless office, it is utterly wrong that Churchmen should have to go about to Public Bodies like the Common Council of the City, begging for money to enable them to carry on services in the various parishes. I certainly am no enemy to the Church As a voluntary worker I have rendered her some assistance, and I oppose the Bill in the interest of the Church.

(11.25.) MR. C. T. DYKE ACLAND (Cornwall, Launceston)

I know Cornwall well, and am able to say that Truro Cathedral is not a rich Cathedral, but, on the contrary, is probably the poorest in England. It has been contributed to by Nonconformists in the noblest way, and they are proud of the edifice, and with reason. The services in Truro Cathedral are carried on with great difficulty, and this is simply a restoration of £200 a year out of £3,000 or £4,000 Cornwall contributes to the general fund. I admit that the Church of England may have no title to take up the time of the House; but so long as there is an Established Church, that Church must have this authority from Parliament. This Bill has absolutely no reference to Disestablishment, but I admit that by Disestablishment the Church might be freer and more able to do her work in the land; but so long as she is established she must come to the House for authority for what is required to be done, and she has a fair claim to come to Parliament in the present case. For that reason I cannot refuse to vote for the Second Reading.

(11.28.) MR. PHILIPPS (Lanark, Mid)

Those who are not specially interested in the maintenance of the Established Church can hardly be expected to be influenced by the arguments advanced by the hon. Member who has just sat down, and, for my part, I protest against the Church of England having further public time allotted to it this Session. Having regard to the time which has been spent on the Tithe Bill, those who are not specially interested in the Church of England have now some claim to the attention of the House. This House, after all, has no control over the actions of the Church of England, and while we have no control over their actions, it is rather hard that they should usurp so much of our time and attention. Hon. Gentlemen opposite who are most devoted to the interests of the Established Church will admit that regrettable incidents take place from time to time—such as those which occur in regard to burials—in which the conduct of individual ministers is reprehensible. These things ought to come under the authority of Parliament or of some public official. So long as we have these burial scandals without public control it is hard that the Church should take up so much time and attention. Why I protest so strongly to-day is because I have heard that a deputation of miners has interviewed the First Lord of the Treasury to ask that special facilities may be given for the discussion of the eight hours question. The right hon. Gentleman was unable to give any definite promise in respect to a matter which interests hundreds of thousands of people, but he can put a little Bill like this before the House in a prominent place on the Orders. This seems to me a scandalous state of things, and I hope that some of us will take care that it is made known to the miners through out the country. [Laughter.] A Member of the Government laughs, but I challenge him to rise in his place and tell the miners why no time is to be found for their business, whilst time is found for a miserable little Church Bill like this. The Members of the Government seem somewhat subdued just now in face of the result of the Northampton election. A Midland borough has just returned are opponent of theirs by a larger majority than has ever been known there before.

An hon. MEMBER

On the eight hours, question.


Both candidates—


Order, order! This has nothing to do with the question before the House. I must ask the hon. Member to confine himself to the Bill on which, as yet, he has not even touched.


I only ask some Member of the Government to get up and give the House some reason why this Bill should be regarded of such importance as to be put before the question of the hours of labour in mines.

(11.36.) MR. F. S. POWELL (Wigan)

I must say I was surprised to hear the observations of the hon. Member who has just sat down, for, unless I am very much mistaken, he, like myself, is the son of a clergyman. What I learnt in early days, and what I have seen and heard of late years, has led me to form very different conclusions from those to which the hon. Member has unfortunately been driven. I do not think it it fair to blame the Government for the Debate that has taken place. I was not aware, until I heard the speech of the hon. Member, that his speech was inspired by the Government; but as to the business of the House being diverted from secular matters to the Church of England, the Statute Book will show that more Public General Acts were passed in this House relating to the Nonconformist Bodies last year than relating to the Church of England. Several Acts were passed affecting Nonconformists; but, so far as I know, not one Act was passed affecting the Church of England. Hon. Members seem to forget that the establishment of Truro Cathedral was entirely due to voluntary contributions. All that is now proposed is that a paltry annuity of £200 should be secured in order to give more completeness to the Cathedral services. Every one of the Sees recently created has been established on a fund of £100,000 or thereabouts, voluntarily subscribed. That occurred within the range of my own knowledge and observation in the case of Wakefield and Liverpool; it is therefore clear that these endowments are popular. I hope the House will read the Bill a second time.

(11.38.) MR.CRAIG (Newcastle-upon-Tyne)

I should like to ask the Solicitor General as to Section 11 of the Act of 1878, which imposes restrictions on the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and declares that they shall not endow the Canonries of Truro. Is the object of this Bill to repeal that section, declaring, as it does, that this £200 shall be paid out of the Common Fund of the Commissioners?

(11.38.) SIR E. CLARKE

Section 11 sets forth that nothing in the Act should authorise the Ecclesiastical Commissioners to apply any portion of their Common Fund towards the endowment of the Dean and Chapter of Truro. But endowments could be paid out of the Canonries of Exeter, and the object of the Bill is to enable this endowment to be paid out of the Common Fund, instead of the Canonries of Exeter.

(11.42.) The House divided:—Ayes 125; Noes 60.—(Div. List, No. 57.)

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