HC Deb 03 April 1914 vol 60 cc1564-85

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

I have the honour to introduce a Bill to authorise the enfranchisement of sites of places of worship held under leases. The Bill is one that has already received the careful consideration of Parliament. So long ago as 1891 its Second Reading was carried by 218 to 110 votes, and it was then described as "a Bill to enable the trustees of religious bodies, on payment of fair compensation, to become the owners of their places of worship." In that Debate it was stated that the principle had been carefully—

Attention called to the fact that forty Members were not present. House counted, and forty Members being found to be present,


I was pointing out that in 1891 a Bill with the same object as the one I am now asking the House to accept was carried by a large majority. Twenty years have passed and the question is still open, but public opinion has advanced, and I am glad to think that there is every hope for a favourable reception of the proposals I am submitting in view of the uncontroversial spirit that obtained in the other House to which this Bill was submitted and where it received careful consideration, being adopted after Amendments had been submitted. To-day I present to this House the Bill in the exact form in which it left the other House. The object is to enable people who erect places of worship out of voluntary subscriptions to secure the freeholds upon which such buildings are erected. In many places sites for such buildings can only be obtained on lease. The ownership of land carries with it many privileges and some responsibilities. But occasionally the veto of the landowner has compelled persons desirous of erecting places of worship to be content with the leasehold instead of the freehold. In the Anglican Church there is not that difficulty, because, under the Church Building Act, there are compulsory powers for the Church of England to acquire sites for church building purposes. We are not asking for such powers. Our desire is to be enabled, on a fair payment for the value of the site which has been leased, to secure the freehold. I could give many instances of hardship, but I am not going to plead for this Bill on any specific case. There is a general agreement, recognised on both sides of politics, that it is now time this principle should be put on the Statute Book. Our anxiety is shared by a large number of trustees as to the fate of their property in the future. I have returns from several of the churches. At the present moment the Calvinistic Methodist Church in Wales have a large number of church sites held on lease. A Report was made to the Commission in 1906 that out of 1,620 places of worship they had no fewer than 405 leased for terms of less than 100 years. In the Wesleyan Methodist Church there are at the present time 318 places of worship on land leased on a term of less than 100 years. Many friends of the principle feel that this Bill does not go far enough. But I have carefully considered the situation, and have gladly accepted the agreed Bill which passed through their Lordship's House exactly as I submit it to this House today, in the hope that we may readily secure its Second Reading, and possibly give another unopposed Bill a chance of being sent to a Committee. We may thus make the best possible use of the private Members' opportunities on this Friday. In this Bill we ask for powers for the enfranchisement of leaseholds when a term of not less than twenty-one years has been given. The conditions will guarantee that the buildings shall be used only for those purposes for which the lease was granted, with a provision perhaps that no inadvertent use of the building shall prejudice the case when meetings have been held only twice in a year, which might be held by others to be outside the immediate object for which the building was erected.


I beg to second the Motion.

There is one point I would like to impress on my hon. Friends on this side of the House. This Bill is founded on a recommendation of a very strong Committee which sat in 1889, and which was composed chiefly of Conservative Members of Parliament. The hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury), who rightly takes a very keen interest in these small Bills which come up on Friday afternoons, was, I think, impressed with what fell from the hon. Gentleman opposite when he said that this Bill had already passed the other House as an agreed Bill.


When did this Committee sit?


In 1889. This is not a denominational Bill. It is not limited to any denomination. The House is rightly jealous of any interference with private property in the way of giving compulsory powers of purchase to any body except for purposes of public utility and public advantage. He would be a very bold man who would say that Divine worship is not a public advantage. The principle of this Bill has been accepted, because a great many years ago power was given to the Church of England to acquire compulsorily sites for their places of worship. What is the law for the Church of England ought to be the law for Nonconformists as well. We have just read a second time a Bill with a great humanitarian object, and I hope the House will now agree to read a second time a Bill which has as its object the promotion of justice and peace.


I shall be glad to support the Second Reading of this Bill, but I am bound to say that there are some Clauses in it which I trust to get amended in Committee. My present feeling is that unless those Clauses are amended, I should feel bound to vote against the Third Reading. There is a distinct grievance existing at the present time with regard to Free Churchmen, but, at the same time, we may buy the remedy at too high a price. I consider that Subsection (c) of Clause 2 and Clause 4 tend in that direction. We know that the whole question of leaseholds will shortly be before the country, and, although we have waited so long for this particular grievance to be remedied, I am very desirous that when it is remedied it should not leave an injustice behind. Under this Bill the landlord is asked to give up what may be some of his rights under a lease which has been entered into. Under a national system of dealing with leaseholds these buildings would be dealt with, and I should prefer to see the matter dealt with in a national way rather than by simply getting rid of one grievance. While under Clause 2 we should gain in obtaining land without paying for the building, the price to be paid for that advantage under Clause 4 is a very heavy one, and much heavier than ought to be paid for it. Clause 4 takes away the liberty of using our buildings as we think right. Under this Bill, the buildings have to be let or habitually used for no purpose other than that of a place of worship or purposes connected therewith. We know perfectly well that in many country districts where this grievance is most felt the chapel is the building and in many cases the only building that we can use for all sorts of purposes. Take, for instance, the question of education. You can hardly call an educational meeting a meeting for purposes connected with worship. There are various questions connected with temperance, housing, and social reforms, and other subjects about which we want to hold meetings in many of our chapels.

Chapels are not consecrated buildings, although we believe that movements which have the good of the community at heart are perfectly suitable to be dealt with in any of our chapels. I take a very broad view of what is worship, but I know that that view would not be acceped by a great many of my colleagues in this House. Therefore I am anxious, if a Bill like this is passed, as, of course, I want it passed, to get rid of the grievance, I am very anxious it should not pass in a way which, while remedying that grievance, would leave another behind. If the Bill were passed in its present form it would raise a great many difficulties and put us in a worse position than we are in now. While there is a grievance, it is a limited grievance. Every year the landowners of this country are becoming more tolerant in questions of religious worship. We know that many members of their households go regularly every Sunday to the village chapel, and it would not be to the interests of their employers if they went to a service which was not congenial to them. I believe that as the years go on this difficulty will become less and less. It is a grievance, and I want to see it remedied, but, at the same time, I am anxious that the remedy should be perfectly fair all round, and that while removing one grievance you should not create another. For that reason, while I shall support the Second Reading of the Bill, I shall do my best to amend some of the Clauses in Committee, but otherwise, as at present advised, I shall not be prepared to take the same course on Third Reading.


I quite agree with my Noble Friend (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) that we should encourage in every way the use of land for religious purposes. I should be the last person to wish to throw any obstacle in the way of that excellent purpose being carried out. But before it is carried away by broad sentiment, the House is entitled to know from the Mover and the Seconder more about the Bill, and why such an extraordinary method is adopted to produce such a good result. It is not sufficient to say you are in favour of land being used for religious purposes without explaining these extraordinary Clauses. The Noble Lord stated that the Church of England have the power to take land compulsorily. So they have, but under the terms of the Lands Clauses Acts. Why is there introduced into this Bill an extraordinary Schedule excluding the operation of the Lands Clauses Acts in several ways? I ask my Noble Friend what possible reason there is for that exclusion? He says he wishes Nonconformists to be treated on a similar basis. If so, why does the Bill contain these extraordinary provisions which take away some of the protection given by the Land Clauses Acts to the owners of land?

The second point I wish to indicate is this. One can, of course, understand broadly the power to take land compulsorily. Under this Bill the head landlord, who has let his premises for a totally different purpose, and never intended them to be used for religious purposes at all, lets them for an ordinary purpose upon an ordinary lease and his lessee lets them for religious purposes. That being so, the head landlord immediately comes under the power of this Act and is forced to sell his land on the terms of compulsory purchase and on the extraordinary terms which are set out in the Schedule to the Bill. I want to give every power to people who wish to hold religious services in any way, and they should have the utmost facilities and have land granted to them. But I think some explanation should be given why this should be allowed. It seems somewhat hard on a head landlord that he should come within the purview of this Act. There is also that extraordinary Clause 4, which certainly requires very considerable explanation, both from the hon. Member's (Sir A. Spicer) point of view and from the entirely opposite point of view. I quite agree with what the hon. Member has said, but look at it from the opposite point of view. The trustees of a chapel buy this property, and the very next year they make up their minds to use it for something else. Clause 4 steps in and says they can do that, but the County Court Judge can immediately order the premises to be sold. What advantage is that to anyone in particular?


My contention is that under Clause 4 the purposes for which we can use the building to-day would be very much narrowed.


I quite agree with the hon. Member's point, namely, that at present the person who has a long lease of a house which is used as a chapel, as a general rule, can use it for other purposes—lectures, or harmless entertainments, or anything of the kind during the week—and his right would be curtailed. His point of view is that of the leaseholder. Let us look at it from the point of view of the ground landlord. These premises have been bought from him and almost directly afterwards the purpose for which they were bought is abandoned, and, by way of a penalty, Clause 4 says that because the purpose has been abandoned altogether, perhaps because the trustees have changed their minds, the County Court Judge steps in and orders the premises to be sold. What. I want to understand is: What possible help is that to the ground landlord? In what way does he benefit by that? It seems to me a most grotesque suggestion.


Clause 4 only applies to a freehold.

4.0 P.M.


Under the Act the chapel is held upon a lease. The Act steps and allows the trustees of the chapel to acquire the freehold from the head landlord. This Clause 4 steps in as a penalty to the ex-leaseholder, the person who has now become a freeholder. Supposing that the trustees have bought the freehold and become the freeholders, and have behaved contrary to the provisions of the Act, and used the chapel for some other purpose than a chapel, the Penalty Clause comes in. The County Court Judge being satisfied of that, enacts the penalty and says that land shall be sold. I am asking in what way does that help the ground landlord? The trustees would sell in the open market and would get the full market price. Far from being a penalty upon the trustees, in what way is it a protection to the landlord who had his property taken away from him? I am not suggesting that such a thing will occur, but the Bill suggests that some such improper use of the Act may be made, and it puts in a Penalty Clause for the purpose of dealing with it. It appears to me that that is not quite an adequate safeguard for the landlord. I have indicated these few points in order to press on the House very strongly that when we are carrying through legislation of any kind we ought not to be carried away too much by the objects we have in view, but should also examine the machinery which we are asked to pass into law. I hope those who are in favour of the Bill will deal more in detail with it, and tell us the way in which they mean to carry out that which probably everyone is anxious to do, namely, to encourage the use of land in Great Britain for religious purposes.

Viscount WOLMER

I shall give this Bill my cordial support on its Second Reading. I do not dispute what my hon. and learned Friend has said that there may be points which require very careful looking into during the Committee stage, but that is for the Committee and not for the House. I have heard no reason advanced why this Bill should not be given a Second Reading. We are told by the leaders of Nonconformity that Nonconformists are under a disability at present, and that they feel that they have not got sufficiently secure tenure for their chapels. If that is so, I am entirely in favour of removing that grievance, and I am glad to find a Nonconformist grievance which can he so easily remedied as the one mentioned in this Bill. The arguments of the hon. Member who introduced the Bill on that score appeared to me to be quite clear. I can thoroughly sympathise with the trustees of a chapel, or the deacons or the minister, who feel that they cannot spend money upon their chapel building because they do not know whether their lease is going to be renewed or not. I could have wished that the hon. Member who introduced the Bill had explained some of its details a little more carefully than he did. I hope the Bill, with those Amendments which the Committee think necessary, will ultimately pass into law, and I hope that that property which the Nonconformist Churches acquire by means of this Bill will never be confiscated by any future Parliament. I think Churchmen have during the last few months been subject to a good deal of irritation on that score. We might be tempted, now that our churchyards even are being confiscated by law, to make ourselves objectionable in the matter of Nonconformist chapels. But I think if we did anything of the sort it would be fighting the battle in an unworthy manner, and I hope it will never be said that anything to embitter the relations between Church and Chapel has come, or will come, from the side of the Church in this House. This is an opportunity for us to join together to do what we can to benefit the cause of religion, and, therefore, I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury) will not be too severe upon the details of the Bill. I am sure he has got his eye on the property side of the Bill, and I would only say to him that the objections which have been raised in the circular which has been sent to Members of the House will all be dealt with in the Committee stage, and that they are not really valid objections to the Bill now. I sincerely hope that hon. Gentlemen opposite, who are interested in this Bill, will do what they can to assist Churchmen when they bring forward Church Bills, so that those measures may have an equally smooth passage through this House as this Bill, which, I hope, will do great and lasting benefit to the Free Churches of the country.


If the hon. and learned Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Rawlinson) will refer to Section 3 of the Schedule, he will find that the purpose of the Bill is to give a person who has been owner of the reversion in fee before it was purchased by the trustees a right of pre-emption in the event of its being put up for sale, or ordered to be sold by a judgment of the County Court. I rather agree with him that it does seem a very cumbersome remedy, and I think it is desirable that the Bill should receive very careful consideration in Committee. The idea of the promoters of the Bill apparently is that the property shall be sold, and that the person who had been landlord of the property should have the right of acquiring it somewhat in the manner of superfluous land under the Railway Clauses Acts. If he was able to do that, of course he would get his land back, but there does remain this difficulty. Supposing he were unable or unwilling to find the money for the purpose, then, apparently, the land might be used for any purpose whatever, whether he liked it or not, and whether in accordance with the conditions under which the land was originally left. Supposing a chapel was used for a cinematograph that, I think, if done habitually, would be an infringement of the Act. Supposing it was put up for sale and the previous landlord was unable to buy, and supposing it was bought for a cinematograph exhibition, I do not think that is the intention of the Bill. Though I cordially support the Second Reading of this measure I think that the scheme with regard to the manner in which the land should be dealt with in the event of an infringement of the provisions of the Statute require serious modification.


I cordially support this Bill. It is most desirable that religious bodies should own the land as well as the premises in which they worship, not merely from what may be termed a sentimental point of view, but also because of the possible desirability of an extension of premises. The Bill is drawn in the most just and moderate fashion. The hon. Baronet complains that it does not go far enough. Having regard to the fact that it has been an accommodation to acquire land by lease for religious buildings it is only fair that to-day when we ask that leaseholders should have an opportunity to acquire the freehold we should, as far as possible consistently with the purpose in view, be ready to deal fairly with the original owners of the land. Therefore, the Bill is drawn on fair terms as regards the freeholder, and it is wise for the promoters to take this equitable and just line. The Bill provides for the limitation of the use of the premises for which the lease was granted. That may appear, in theory, in some cases to be au inconvenient restriction, but in practice I believe that generally it is wished to keep the use of these premises for religious purposes only. There is also a provision that any dispute as to compensation should be settled by a single arbitrator. I am satisfied from the desire of landowners to give religious liberty to all that there will be no need to resort to the services of an arbitrator, but that terms equitable and just would be agreed to readily. Then it is clearly provided that if the tenanted part of the land is not required for the purposes to which it was acquired, and the trustees propose to sell the offer in the first instance shall be made to the original owner of the land, and if he does not wish to buy, to the owner of the land adjoining, so as to avoid any cutting up of property which might be detrimental to the original property as a whole. Speaking as a Nonconformist I think that the Nonconformist bodies of this country have rendered great service in providing religious ministrations for the people, and I hope that there is a spirit and a feeling between the Established Church and the Nonconformists which will draw all bodies closer together in the carrying out of the great work in which all alike are engaged. I venture to say that this Bill will be looked upon by all Nonconformists as a step in that direction. There is a natural feeling—and I think a feeling which we must respect—among Nonconformists to acquire the freehold of the premises in which they worship, though they do not advocate anything of a confiscatory character. I appeal to the House to support the Bill, whose provisions are framed with the object of meeting their conscientious objections, and I am quite sure that it will do something to remove those feelings of irritation, which, I am sure, it is the desire of every Member of this House should not continue to exist between religious bodies.


I want to give my support to this Bill, but I would not have felt called upon to rise had it not been for the observations which fell from the Noble Lord the Member for Newton (Viscount Wolmer), which were offered in so generous and kindly a spirit that I think they ought not to be passed over unnoticed by a passionate Nonconformist such as I claim to be. That men of different religious communities should approach a question like this in a fair and temperate fashion makes for the good of the whole religious community. If the Noble Lord should fear that anything may fall from myself in the future which might seem to him to be harsh and inexplicable, I hope he will take it from me, and those with whom I am associated, that we, in this as in all other matters affecting the principles we seek to apply in legislation, ask that nothing whatever shall be conceded to Nonconformists which is denied to the Establishment. While I admit the difficulties in the Bill as at present framed, yet for those difficulties we are not wholly responsible. The Bill was drawn up by legislators in another place, and in our attempt to secure peace we have taken the measure in its present form. For myself, I am prepared to accept two lawyers on that side and two lawyers sitting on this side—[HON. MEMBERS: "No, no; not lawyers!"]—pardon me; I would be prepared to trust even lawyers, and to have two lawyers from that side and two from this to form a Committee—which would secure fair dealing as between the Establishment and Nonconformity in drawing up a Bill on terms of mutual agreement between the two bodies, with the perfect equality of both.


As an ardent Churchman, and as one who has taken a humble part in fighting her battle, I should not like to allow an occasion of this kind to pass without saying one word in favour of this Bill, which, I understand, is to remove a grievance felt by Nonconformists. As a Churchman, I should bitterly regret and deplore that any privilege of this kind enjoyed by the Church of England should not be candidly and generously extended to Nonconformists. If this Bill goes further, and promotes what is dear to the heart of every man in this House, namely, the extending of religious propaganda and religious education, I am sure it will receive the hearty support of all sides in this House. I observe that a certain amount of discontent is already seething in the mind of the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London (Sir F. Banbury). When I came into the House this afternoon he was addressing the House in tones of somewhat unusual contentment for a Friday afternoon. I have often heard him deplore Friday afternoons in this House as untold misfortunes from his point of view. This afternoon appeared to be perfectly satisfactory to him, and I was almost afraid that his unblemished and unbroken record was about to be broken, but I find now, if I can judge by the outlook and the manifestations, that the hon. Baronet still finds cause for complaint in our Friday afternoon discussion. I do not think I quite follow the objections made by the hon. Member as to the results which he fears with reference to the operation of Clause 4. I do think that it is just that if the buildings of which the freehold is compulsorily acquired under this Bill are used for purposes foreign to religion and to religious education, and are habitually so used, that then there should be power in some way to determine the bargain which has been carried out. All that the Clause provides is that if the buildings are habitually used for any purpose other than that of a place of worship or purposes connected therewith, that then the County Court Judge shall have the power to discontinue the order. I do not see that that is unjust. It seems to me it is only fair that you should preserve the continuity of religious purposes in buildings so acquired.


That is just the point. They are allowed under lease to be used for those purposes now, while we should not be able to do so under freehold.


The Clause provides, if it is proved to the satisfaction of the judge that any premises, the estate in fee simple in which has been acquired by trustees under this Act, or any part thereof, are let or are habitually used for any purpose other than that of a place of worship or purposes connected therewith, the judge shall, unless it appears to him that such use was due to inadvertence and will be discontinued, order that the premises, or such part thereof be sold. That seems to me to be reasonable and just. I quite admit Nonconformists are in the habit of using their religious structures for purposes, educational purposes, purposes kindred to religion, which perhaps would not be employed in the Church of England. I personally, I confess, sometimes deplore that they consider that political propaganda is included in the purposes for which their chapels may be used. I deplore it, but that is a matter which we must leave to the consciences and habits of Nonconformists themselves. I should suppose that if under Clause 4 one of these places of worship was habitually used for purposes of that kind, absolutely foreign to the purposes for which the Act enabled the buildings to be acquired, that thereupon the Clause would come into operation. Still, after all, that is a matter for consideration in Committee, and the hon. Member is quite right in saying that. The purposes of the Bill seem to me to be just, and to have a just and proper religious foundation, and therefore I shall certainly vote for the Second Reading.


I am sure the supporters of this Bill are grateful to hon. Gentlemen in all parts of the House for the kind and cordial way in which they have welcomed its main proposals. There has been some little complaint that my hon. Friends who moved and seconded did so with a certain amount of brevity, but I think that may be excused under the circumstances as to time. We have, however, to bear in mind that this Bill has passed its Second Reading in the House of Commons twice by overwhelming majorities, and on one occasion without a Division at all. Moreover, the Bill has been in three successive years in another place, and has been carefully considered on the Committee stage and on the Report stage upon two occasions. I do hope and sincerely hope that this time we shall not embark on consideration of the details of the Bill. After all, the question that we have to consider this afternoon is whether the Bill should or should not be read a second time. My hon. Friends who are in charge of the Bill might, I am sure, if they had liked, have brought forward an overwhelming mass of information and of cases justifying the introduction of the Bill. I have in my hand a list of leasehold properties of the Wesleyan Methodist Church, of which the Mover of the Bill (Sir N. Helme) and the hon. Member for Tavistock (Sir J. Spear), who supported it, are distinguished members. I find from this list that there are some cases in which the leases have actually expired, in other cases they have only one year to run, in other cases they have less than ten years to run, and in many more they have less than twenty years to run. The result will be that at the end of those leases the whole of this property, which has been erected by voluntary subscription, and some of which is very valuable indeed, will fall into the hands of the owners of freehold.

One of my hon. Friends referred to the question as if it were a diminishing grievance. I am sorry to say that, so far from diminishing, it is a growing grievance. I know one denomination in Wales which in 1883 obtained statistics showing that belonging to that denomination there were 347 chapels under a leasehold tenure, and that the value of those places of worship was £355,000. Statistics were obtained and presented to a Royal Commission twenty-seven years later, showing that the number of chapels under leasehold tenure of under 100 years had grown by over 400, and their value had increased from £355,000 to £731,000. Those facts show that the grievance is a growing one, and that the necessity for this Bill is urgent. I sincerely trust that, under the circumstances, the House will allow to pass this afternoon a Bill which has already received its sanction upon more than one occasion by an overwhelming majority, and that it will not embark upon a consideration of details which can be more properly discussed in Committee. I would particularly appeal to the hon. Baronet the Member for the City of London to allow the Bill to go upstairs to a Grand Committee, where the objections which he and any other hon. Member may entertain will be duly and properly considered.


I intervene for a moment to say that I cordially approve of the Bill—so much so, that when the Bill gets into Committee, I shall ask, on behalf of the Jewish community, that its wording may be extended to include the Synagogues and Sabbath schools of that community.


The Noble Lord the Member for South Nottingham (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) said that it was an excellent thing, with which everybody in the House would agree, that land should be used for the purposes of divine worship. Of course, we all agree with that sentiment. We have, however, been told that we ought to render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, and it will be setting a very bad example if religious people start infringing that principle. This Bill breaks contracts to the disadvantage of one person for the benefit of another. There may be certain grievances in certain districts; I will endeavour to say a word upon that point later; but, if there are grievances, it does not seem to me to be right for this House to attempt the amelioration of those grievances by countenancing the infliction of another wrong. I was surprised to hear the hon. and learned Gentleman below the Gangway support this Bill. I always thought it was one of the principles of English law that a, contract was sacred, and that any attempt to infringe that principle would subject a person to considerable opposition from leading members of the English Bar. I put that proposition a day or two ago to a member of the English Bar, and it was not denied, but he said we have advanced a long way since then. He did not say when "then" was, but he rather seemed to suggest that the principle had been thrown over. If so, I am sorry to hear it, because I am quite certain that the foundations and prosperity of our whole social system rest upon the cardinal fact, that when two people enter into a legal contract one of them has no right to break it to his own advantage and to the detriment of the other. The Noble Lord the Member for Nottingham (Lord H. Cavendish-Bentinck) alluded to the 1889 Committee. He will correct me if I am wrong, but I understood him to say that the Report of the 1889 Committee was rather to be taken as evidence in support of this Bill. I have a paragraph from the Report of that Committee of 1889 which I will read, with his permission, to the Noble Lord and to the House:— The Committee report generally with regard to the powers of compulsory enfranchisement that any such power must in fairness be coupled with provisions to secure the reversion both of the value of property and to compensate for injury sustained by its being taken over with any expenses which may necessarily be incurred. There is no provision of that sort in this Bill—none whatever! On the contrary, there is a provision that no sum shall be paid for compulsory purchase, and that no compensation shall be given for the expenses of re-investment, or other expenses which may have been incurred. In fact, I think I may go so far as to say that the Bill is absolutely without precedent. I believe that compulsory powers have never yet been given even for special objects of approved public benefit, existing within narrowly-defined limits, without full opportunity to all persons affected to be heard in opposition. This Bill gives individuals absolutely compulsory powers, without any power of objection by anyone. It has been stated that the House of Lords—and stated, too, from the other side of the House!—that the House of Lords having already passed this Bill, I think, on two occasions, is an argument which should appeal to this House. As my hon. and learned Friend says, even he is sufficient of a Radical to hold that this House is an independent body, and that its decisions should not be guided by what takes place in another place. But the hon. Members opposite, who have been denouncing the House of Lords for many years past, and who have crippled the House of Lords, and so rendered it practically useless, to come down and ask this House to pass a measure on the ground that the House of Lords has passed it, is, to my mind, perfectly incomprehensible. There can be only one solution of it, and that is that we have it as an argument in favour of the Bill that the House of Lords having passed it, we ought to pass it. I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for one of the Divisions of Devonshire who said that there was great necessity for Nonconformists to have the freehold of their chapels. I do not know whether he has read the Bill, because the Bill goes very much further than giving to certain religious bodies the freehold of the places in which they worship. If my hon. Friend will look at Clause V., page 4, he will find this:— The expression 'place of worship' means any church, chapel, or meeting- house, used for public religious worship, and includes a burial ground, Sunday school, caretaker's house, or minister's house. Why should a Sunday school be taken away from its owner on conditions as to pecuniary compensation absolutely different from any other conditions in this country, and why on earth should a caretaker's house? I think the hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill did well to found his argument for support of it on the ground that the House of Lords had passed it. I can only think when the House of Lords passed a Bill of this kind, it must have been so attenuated, owing to the action of hon. Members opposite, that knowing that their efforts can be of very little avail, they did not know what they were passing, else they could not, in the circumstances, have included in a Bill, under the title "The Enfranchisement of Sites of Places of Worship held under lease," caretaker's houses. I am not at all sure whether at this moment I might not raise a point of Order as to whether Clause V. does not go beyond the scope of the Bill. The title says the Bill authorises "the enfranchisement of sites of places of worship held under lease," whereas the Bill authorises the acquisition of caretakers' houses or ministers' houses. I venture to say no one can include in places of worship held under lease the caretaker's house or minister's house—


On that point of Order, may I point out that in many cases the caretaker's house is part of the same structure. In providing for the building of Sunday schools the caretaker's house is an integral part of the building used.


This Bill does not say that the caretaker's house is an integral part of the place of worship, nor that the minister's house is an integral part of the place of worship. I do not know whether I should be in order in asking you, Mr. Speaker, to say now whether there is anything in that point?


If the hon. Member wants an answer now he can have it. The caretaker's house would seem to have to be used in connection with the place of worship, and held upon the same terms as the place of worship. I think, therefore, it would not be unreasonable to define that as part of the place of worship.


If it is, that does away with the contention that this is a religious grievance, because I do not myself believe there is any particular difficulty in getting sites for these chapels. It may be it is difficult, but it cannot be a difficulty in the case of a caretaker's house or the minister's house. There can be no reason why a man who is the caretaker of a chapel should have his house enfranchised on different terms to those obtained by anybody else on the ground that he cannot obtain a house elsewhere. The hon. and learned Member for Cambridge pointed out quite a serious blot in Clause 4. Apparently it is laid down in the Schedule that in the event of the County Court Judge coming to a certain decision the land or the buildings shall be offered to the original freeholder. Let me point out, however, that under this Bill, when a place of worship is enfranchised, the sum that is to be paid in the case of improvements having been executed on the land by the religious body, or in the case of the building having been erected by the religious body, all that has to be paid is the price of the land. Under the order of the County Court Judge, it is not stated what price is to be asked, and I presume any price could be asked, so that a prohibitory price could be put upon it. That would include the value of the hall or building erected on it. The freeholder would not have received that, and he might find himself in the position of being expropriated for the sum of £1,000, and he might be asked £5,000 if he wanted to get it back again. That is very hard upon the freeholder. I agree that Clause 4 is no protection whatever to the freeholder, and evidently it was put in because it was thought it would be quite fair to say that a person who has left a certain building to a certain religions denomination may have that building taken away on certain disadvantageous terms.

It was feared that religious bodies, having once obtained this building, might sell it later on at an enhanced price for other purposes, and this Clause was put in to prevent it being used for any other purpose than that for which it was originally acquired. This shows the difficulty which would arise from the fact that this Clause does not in any way meet the case. The moment you begin to interfere between man and man, and the right each man has to make his own bargain about his own property, immediately the State interferes you are met with innumerable difficulties of the character which I have pointed out. There is another point I wish to mention. Suppose I happen to be the owner of a certain property, say, a Sunday school if you like, or some building, and I let it to my hon. and learned Friend for twenty-one years. He receives an advantageous offer from the hon. and learned Gentleman below the Gangway, but I do not get any benefit from that. I may have let my property for £50, and the hon. Member may get £500, and he may be going to turn it into a Methodist chapel. My hon. Friend accepts the £500, and the hon. and learned Gentleman below the Gangway has got that building, and turns it into a chapel, and then he can come down and take it away from me, although I never let it to him as a chapel, at least, not on the ordinary terms under the Land Clauses Act, but on terms totally distinct and different from any terms which have ever been imposed for compulsory purchase by this House. I would like to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman below the Gangway whether he approves of that?


The provisions of the Bill seem to me to be quite just.


Then I may tell the hon. and learned Gentleman that I hope I may never get into the meshes of the law unless I have done wrong. May I ask him whether he approves of Clause 5, which says that no counsel shall be employed by anyone?


That seems to me to be a distinct additional advantage in the Bill.


The hon. and learned Gentleman is turning the other cheek on every occasion, and I will not further pursue the subject. I hope that the House will pause before they endorse a Bill of this sort with unanimous approval. Of course, as a matter of fact, I do not suppose it makes very much difference whether we pass the Second Reading or not, because there are such a large number of private Bills—


Public Bills.


Yes, private Members' public Bills which have already passed this House that it is very unlikely very much will be heard of it. We are, however, laying down a very bad precedent. It is not right, because there is a grievance, to come to this House and say that we are going to do some wrong to amend it. There is not a single Member supporting the Bill who has done anything or said anything to show that it does not do injury to certain people. Because people happen to own land that is no reason why they should be robbed. The hon. Member opposite was rather indignant with me when I said I was inclined to think there was no great difficulty in obtaining sites for chapels. There is any quantity of land to be sold all over the country, and in the majority of towns there are any number of sites to be got. I quite admit it is not easy to get freehold sites all over London, but you can get sites on a very long lease, and I fail to see why a religious body should be put into a different position from other persons, and why they should not be content with a lease of 99 years. There are in other parts of the country plenty of freehold sites obtainable if a proper price is paid. There may possibly be some difficulty in some rural villages, but would this Bill help? Take the case of a landlord who owns the whole of the village in which there is not a Nonconformist chapel. Some persons, being Nonconformists, ask him if he will allow a certain plot of land to be used for the erection of a Methodist chapel. He says "Well, I do not want to part with the land altogether, but I will give you a lease." Will he do that under this Bill? He will say, "No, I shall do nothing of the sort, because if I give you a lease the land may be taken from me." This Bill is not going to assist the acquisition of new sites, but it is going to break contracts and assist the acquisition of sites, the leases of which have been obtained under totally different circumstances and on a totally different understanding. I cannot conceive that religious bodies can sincerely come forward with a proposition to do that. It is to me absolutely astonishing that religious bodies should entertain feelings of that description. I do not know it will be of any use dividing against the Bill. Hon. Gentlemen opposite smile with perhaps a look of triumph, but they must not smile too soon. It is not at all certain we shall be sitting in this House another six weeks or so. I will not, however, go into that; it would be out of order. Still, I hardly think it is worth while dividing. But I should like to say this before I sit down: If I do not move the rejection of the Bill, and if I do not challenge a Division in the Lobby, it is not because I do not think the Bill is not a bad one; neither is it because I have not the courage to go into the Lobby. I have in the course of my political career divided against a great number of Bills when I have thought them wrong. I have on occasion had only a very small number of supporters in the Lobby. That small number, however, has never deterred me from dividing against a Bill. I feel quite certain that hon. Members opposite will recognise that if I do not divide against the Bill to-day it is only really because I feel sure that in the present condition of the House—in having very few Members present, many Members having gone away under the impression that the Bill would not come up—it would be no use putting the House to the, inconvenience of a Division. There is no object to be gained. If there is one righteous man in the House at this moment I may perhaps change my opinion, but I desire to say, in all seriousness, that I regret very much this Bill has been brought forward. I do not think it is going to do any good to the acquisition of sites for places of worship in the future. If it does any good, it will only be by allowing people to break their contracts, and that I submit is the very worst thing that could happen in this country.


I should like to know what the situation will be in Wales if the Welsh Church Disestablishment Bill becomes law? Under that Bill the burial grounds will be taken away from the Church of England. Will it be the case that in Wales only the Nonconformist burial grounds will belong to their communities? I should like to have that elucidated. It appears to me, if that is so, some hon. Gentlemen opposite have curious ideas as to what is called religious equality.

Sir J. D. REES

I wish to call attention to one fact in connection with this Bill. I once backed a similar Bill. I understood at that time, and my impression still is, that the Bill was introduced particularly in the interests of Free Church places of worship. It is a singular circumstance that only one Member for Wales (Sir D. Brynmor Jones) has backed this Bill. I should like to know, too, what is the difficulty experienced in finding sites for places of worship? It is obvious that there can be no such difficulty in Wales, because there is no conceivable part of the Principality where the different sects have not places of worship. The statistics show that the seating provided is beyond all comparison more than is required for the number of worshippers. I do not think hon. Gentlemen opposite will dispute the figures, which were taken from the "Free Church Journal," and which show that Seating accommodation is provided all over the Principality for more than double the number of worshippers.


That is not a point which arises in the present instance. The hon. Member is thinking of the Bill he backed, which was for the acquisition of sites, and was a totally different Bill.

Sir J. D. REES

But this provides for the enfranchisement of sites. If no difficulty exists at present, if sites are available and if the only question is one of enfranchisement there does not seem to be any need for this Bill, which will introduce another interference with the rights of property. Why should a special method of compulsory acquisition be introduced in regard to the housing of religious denominations, and particularly because they are Free Church denominations?

Sir JOHN SPEAR rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put," but Mr. Speaker withheld his assent, as he was of opinion that the House were prepared to come to a decision very shortly without that Motion. Debate resumed.

Sir J. D. REES

There is time for the hon. Gentleman to answer my question. I do not want to prevent the Second Reading being obtained. Since I have been in the House—

Sir N. HELME rose in his place, and claimed to move, "That the Question be now put."

Question, "That the Question be now put," put, and agreed to.

Main Question put accordingly, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.